COLUMBUS, Ohio — A “religious freedom” bill has been put on hold in the Ohio House of Representatives because of concerns that it’s nearly identical to legislation in Arizona that critics say would allow business owners to shun LGBT customers and anyone else they don’t like.
State Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (House Bill 376) told Outlook Columbus on Wednesday that “you won’t see any more hearings or anything” until the bill is rewritten to eliminate any potential for discrimination in public accommodations.
“I’m 6-foot-five-and-a-half, I’m black and bald-headed,” Patmon said. “Can you imagine what I think about discrimination?”
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Patmon said he has set up a meeting with the ACLU and will reach out to discuss the bill with the LGBT community as well. He said its purpose was to ensure people’s right to wear a cross or a yarmulke while at their jobs without state or local governments saying they can’t.
Supporters say the legislation is modeled after a 1993 federal law that courts say applies only to the federal government.
“That was never the intention of the bill,” he said of concerns about potential discrimination. “When the questions in Arizona came up, I said, ‘Let’s slow down here. Let’s make sure we’re not setting up a discriminatory process.’”
Article continues belowEntire sections of the Ohio bill, sponsored by 45 representatives, are identical to controversial Arizona legislation. Just like the Arizona legislation, which awaits the signature or veto of Gov. Jan Brewer, the Ohio bill would curtail the state’s power to take any action – such as enforcing anti-discrimination laws – that affects someone’s exercise of religion.
Both laws define “state action” and “exercise of religion” the same way, and both require the state to pay attorney fees and other costs of people who use their religion as a defense in court.
Supporters of the Ohio measure include the Catholic Conference of Ohio, the Ohio Council of Churches, and Citizens for Community Values.
A similar bill was introduced Monday in Missouri.