Religious Freedom Restoration Act passes House
LANSING – House Democrats are criticizing a bill that would allow individuals to discriminate under the guise of religious beliefs. House Bill 5958, introduced by House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), would create the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It passed the House by a vote of 59-50 along party lines.
“It seems to me that Republicans in the House only wish to push through legislation that would allow for discrimination, while the Democrats are trying to protect people,” said Rep. Phil Cavanagh (D-Redford), minority vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where HB 5958 passed 7-4 along party lines. “While both sides have come together to help people recently, this is a great divide that must be bridged for the sake of our state and our people.”
Democrats fear that HB 5958 is too broad, with many individuals and groups having the chance to claim religious beliefs as a reason to cheat the system, such as not paying interest on loans. A Quaker counselor could also choose not to aide a soldier based on religious beliefs. The bill was designed to accompany an update to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, with one version protecting gender identity or expression, and the other only adding sexual orientation. Both versions failed to pass through committee this week and Speaker Bolger has declared the issue ‘dead’.
“This legislation opens up an unknown future for those who would fall victim to discrimination if Republicans can make it law,” said Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “Where does the line end? So many people have different yet sincere religious beliefs, there’s a possibility that anyone can use this defense simply to discriminate.”
Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, offered several amendments to the bill, including ones stating that RFRA couldn’t be used as an excuse to discriminate and that RFRA couldn’t be used to justify child abuse. All were voted down along party lines. Other Democratic amendments also failed.
“This bill puts state government into the position of determining which religious views are sufficiently sincere to qualify,” Irwin said. “This violates the principle of separation of church and state. The amendments offered by myself and my Democratic colleagues in committee tried to offer some protection for Michiganders, but Republicans are hell-bent on destroying any small comfort left in our state.”
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I’m State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton, and I serve Michigan’s 27th House District.
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State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton
27th House District