Don Byrd, BJC’s Brent Walker Asks: Do States Need Religious Freedom Legislation?, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

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The February 2015 issue of Report From the Capital – the flagship publication of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty – is now online. And it is packed with important, timely columns and useful information. Among them is a piece from BJC Executive Director Rev. Brent Walker, who asks a question very much in the news these days: do states need religious freedom legislation?

As several states consider bills modeled, to varying degrees, after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Walker counsels against straying from the federal law’s carefully constructed language.

From the column:

[A]ttempts to further ensure religious liberty at the state level is not novel. What is new, however, is that the political energy fueling the recently proposed laws — in, for example, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma — seems to be an attempt to protect against various involvements with LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

The Baptist Joint Committee, having led the coalition urging Congress to pass RFRA in 1993, believed then — and does today — that the federal RFRA embodies a delicately balanced formula by which courts can adjudicate religious liberty claims while seeking to protect important interests of society generally or the well-being of third parties adversely affected by the requested accommodation. As a general principle, the BJC has encouraged — and certainly has not discouraged — state RFRAs that parallel the careful language of federal RFRA.

The problem comes when proponents of state legislation want to change the language of their bills to promote their own policy agendas or to disadvantage that of their political opponents.

He goes on to detail a few of the unwise changes being offered in some state legislative proposals. Read the whole thing.