Michigan House-Passed Bill On Religious Rights Criticized By Saugatuck Councilman Spangler
Saugatuck city officials are concerned the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), approved last week by Michigan’s Republican-led House, may, if enacted, trump the local non-discrimination ordinance.
Supporters claim the RFRA is meant to limit government laws that may violate a person’s free exercise of religion.
Critics, including those of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual (LGBT) community, are calling the proposal a “license to discriminate.”
Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler drew his colleagues’ attention to the issue, wanting the council to discuss the issue at a future workshop.
“This act provides broad protections based on a person’s religious beliefs. This law makes it legal to refuse service, deny employment, housing, health care and other basic rights if the person or person claim that it violates their religious freedom.
“This law is similar to the one passed by the Arizona legislature and subsequently vetoed by the governor.
The state of Colorado has also suffered because of a similar law,” read Spangler from a prepared statement.
The RFRA mirrors the federal RFRA, but with additional provisions, calling for “broad protection of religious exercise to the maximum extent permitted.”
Spangler is not alone as city officials across the state are speaking out against the proposal.
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett, for example, says he is also concerned the measure may subvert local law against discrimination as well as how it may expose government entities to frivolous lawsuits, and thereby, gratuitous waste of limited resources.
East Lansing became the first city in the United Staes to ban discrimination against the gay community.
Sponsored by House Speaker Jase Bolger, the RFRA is on the fast track; it was sponsored last month and was approved by a 59-50 party-line House vote last Thursday and it is now going before the Senate for consideration.
What is not moving so fast—in fact, not advancing at all—is a competing proposal that adds gay rights protections to Michigan’s anti-discrimination law. It is stuck in committee because there is a dispute over transgender-specific language.
“Since state law supersedes local law my concern is that this law, if enacted, may render our local non-discrimination ordinance irrelevant,” said Spangler.
“If this attracts big media attention as it has in other states, it could have serious impact on our tourist economy as well,” further noted Spangler.
Saugatuck’s non-discrimination ordinance, last updated in 2007, makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of, among a host of other features, “sexual orientation” as well as “real or perceived sex, gender identity, or gender expression.”