Susan Ladd, Religious ‘Freedom’ Act actually promotes oppression, News & Record

Want to refuse to serve Muslims at your restaurant? Ban gay couples from your hotel? Keep African-Americans out of your store?

If the N.C. Religious Freedom Restoration Act passes, you could do that and more.

ton=Go” target=”_blank”>House Bill 348, tory-religious-freedom-act” target=”_blank”>filed Tuesday, and ton=Go” target=”_blank”>SB 550, an identical bill filed Thursday in the Senate, are far broader than Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger’s ton=Go” target=”_blank”>bill that gives magistrates the right of refusal to perform marriage ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.

In fact, HB 348 would allow pretty much any person or business manager to do, or refuse to do, pretty much anything by saying it violates their religious beliefs.

The agenda behind many of these state laws is to provide an exemption for businesses that don’t want to provide services for same-sex couples, but the language is broad enough to permit discrimination based on gender, race, religion, disability and citizenship.

The way these bills are written, there’s almost nothing out of bounds.

The bills say that state and local laws can’t burden a person’s right to exercise their religion, even if those laws have nothing specifically to do with religion.

A person, under the bill’s definition, includes associations, partnerships, corporations, churches, religious institutions, estates, trusts, foundations or other legal entities.

Who wouldn’t be covered under such a description?

The bills define the exercise of religion as any action or refusal to act that is motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs, whether or not the specific action is “central to a larger system of religious belief.”

That means your actions don’t have to be based on a major tenet of an established religion. You just have to say you’re acting out of religious beliefs.

“This about using religion as an excuse to impose your beliefs on others or discriminate against somebody because of your religion beliefs,” said Sarah Preston, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

As long as you cite religious beliefs, you could make up your own rules or exempt yourself from rules with which you don’t agree.

As I once noted, religion famously was cited as a foundation for prohibiting interracial marriage in the case that sparked Loving vs. Virginia. So even though marrying someone of another race is legal — like contraceptives, abortion and, in many states, same-sex marriage — these proposed bills would give companies or individuals the right to opt out of following the law.

This means we would only have a guarantee to our rights and freedoms if other people agree that we do.

Such insanity took root with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, a reaction to a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the firing of two Native Americans for using peyote in a religious ceremony. In the rush to protect religious practices, Congress passed that act without conceiving or examining its sweeping consequences.

That law says, in essence, that the government has to prove that a law serves a “compelling interest” before it could curtail the practice of someone’s beliefs.

What it became was a get-out-of-laws-free card.

The states are now following suit, using the same language as the federal law.

If you believe that deformities and disabilities are “the mark of the beast,” you could deny those people admission or service.

Muslims could refuse to serve Jews, and Jews could refuse to serve Muslims. Pharmacists could refuse to dispense contraceptives, and religious-affiliated schools could fire women because they became pregnant outside marriage.

If that sounds outlandish, consider that a bill protecting peyote users is now being appropriated to discriminate against gay people.

These bills, SB 550 and HB 348, do not restore freedom. They promote oppression.

They are not good for people, and they are definitely not good for business.

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tory/news/politics/2015/03/25/gov-mike-pence-sign-religious-freedom-bill-thursday/70448858/” target=”_blank”>signed a similar bill into law on Thursday, Salesforce, a $4 billion company, announced it had cancelled all programs that required customers or employees to travel to Indiana.

The NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis and this week will stage college basketball’s Final Four there, also expressed concern about how the law might affect its employees, student-athletes and visitors.

“If legislators are really concerned about creating jobs and recruiting businesses, they should not send a signal that this it the kind of state North Carolina is,” Preston said.

Indiana was the 20th state to adopt such a law. Religious freedom laws have been proposed in 13 states just this year and have been defeated in five.

Let’s make it six.

State lawmakers once should bury this backward bill in committee and vote it down if it makes it to the floor. Or do what a committee of the Georgia House of Representatives did — attach an amendment that the law could not be used to discriminate. The result for the bill? Sudden death.

If this law were to pass, Gov. Pat McCrory should follow Brewer’s lead and veto it.

Moreover, U.S. lawmakers should move to repeal the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. But it’s just one of our inalienable rights and should not be allowed to trump all others.


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