How lawmakers in these 12 states used religion as a weapon this year

In this photo made Thursday, March 31, 2016, LGBTQ rights supporters take part in a rally outside the Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. A proposed constitutional amendment in Missouri would protect some businesses citing religious objections while denying goods or services related to same-sex weddings which passed the Senate after a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats and now needs House approval before it can be put on a ballot this year. Photo: (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Lawmakers in numerous states have advanced measures this year that would strengthen religious protections for individuals, organizations or some businesses that decline to provide services to same-sex couple based on their religious beliefs.

While some are narrowly tailored to protect clergy, others are written more broadly, potentially applying to an array of businesses. Some bills already have been sent to governors while others are pending in the legislature. A few already have failed to pass before legislative sessions ended.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that have advanced in state legislatures over the past year:


The Republican-led Legislature passed a bill last year preventing government entities from substantially burdening the religious exercise of individuals, associations or corporations, unless by the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest (House Bill 1228). After businesses raised concerns, lawmakers pulled back the bill and passed a new one that eventually was signed by Gov. Asa Hutchison. The revised version more closely mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, without specifically applying it to businesses and associations (Senate Bill 975).


Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law stating that clergy, churches, religious schools and other religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for marriage celebrations that violate “a sincerely held religious belief.” The law will take effect July 1 (House Bill 43).


Republican Gov. Nathan Deal announced last week that he will veto a bill barring government penalties against religious schools and organizations that decline to employ, provide services to or allow the use of their facilities by people because of a “sincerely held religious belief.” The measure also would have protected clergy who decline to preform same-sex marriages. And it would have enacted a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless by the least restrictive means for a compelling government interest (House Bill 757).


Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill last year barring government entities from substantially burdening the religious exercise of individuals, organizations and businesses, unless by the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest (Senate Bill 101). After businesses raised concerns, Pence signed an amended version stating that the law cannot be used to deny services, public accommodations, employment or housing based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender identity (Senate Bill 50).

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