Ohio Religious freedom bill pulled by sponsors
The proposed “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has been derailed by its sponsors because of concerns that it may discriminate against gay Ohioans.
“We never started out with some idea of giving people the right to discriminate. That doesn’t work in this country,” said Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland Democrat who jointly sponsoring the bill with Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Oxford. “If anybody knows me and knows my record, they know I’ve fought discrimination.”
Shortly after Patmon and Derickson announced they wanted the bill withdrawn, Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that “no future consideration will be given to H.B. 376.”
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Concerns about the bill were raised by FreedomOhio.
“We need to kill this bill,” Ian James, the group’s executive director, said of House Bill 376. “It’s dangerous and eerily similar to the Arizona legislation.”
James referred to legislation passed by Arizona state lawmakers and sent to Gov. Jan Brewer for her signature that would restrict the ability of the state to enforce anti-discrimination laws if they impinged on religious freedom. The bill has widespread support and equally broad criticism, including from Republicans Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
The Ohio bill was introduced in December with the support of Republicans and Democrats as well as religious leaders and organizations.
Derickson said at the time that the bill is “a preventive attempt” to block further encroachment on expression of religious freedom. He cited examples such as prohibition of prayer in schools and public places, zoning issues for churches, and public expression of religious faith, such as wearing crosses and displaying Nativity scenes.
Patmon said today that he only wants a bill that protects people from punishment who practice their religion in the workplace, such as wearing a cross or yamaka.
“In this whole discussion, we were never going to attempt to do discrimination,” Patmon said. “If anybody knows me and knows my record, they know I’ve fought discrimination.”
Patmon said a formal action is being taken to pull the bill, and a House GOP spokesman confirmed that Derickson has agreed to take action to stop activity on the legislation, which has had two committee hearings since its introduction in December.
Patmon said some interpret the bill as allowing people in business to discriminate against someone else based on his or her religious beliefs. “If that’s ambiguous, it needs to be cleared up.”
“Maybe the language is too loose. Maybe it does need some work. We intend to do work on it and make sure it’s the right kind of bill.”
The move, Patmon said, does not change his desire to protect the faith community’s right to exhibit their beliefs.
A variety of religious groups, including the Catholic Conference of Ohio, Ohio Council of Churches and Agudath Israel of America, have publicly supported the bill.
Jim Tobin, associate director for the Catholic Conference of Ohio, said today the intent of the bill is to ensure there is a compelling state interest before something violates a person’s religious preferences.
“This bill, in our opinion, will not change any current practice, and will only address a standard which people can address to,” he said. “We just want the courts to know we want the strict scrutiny standard to be applied.”
Tobin said he is not sure how the bill compares to Arizona’s proposal, but he said work is ongoing to address concerns about whether the language is too tight or too broad.
“Our intent is not to make it any different than to mirror what the federal law is doing. We’r e not trying to open up new issues.”
As a recognizable religious organization, Tobin said, “Our intent is never to unjustly treat somebody. Our belief is to say: ‘Our beliefs need to be respected.’”
“If you’re willing to accept that certain religious faiths have real reasons why we hold what we hold, then it’s also possible an individual could devoutly have that. There’s less of a Catholic that’s going to be able to prove that they didn’t rent to somebody because of their belief in Catholicism,” he said. “The burden would be that you’d have to show it is a legitimate religious belief.”