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

KANSAS

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that prevents colleges and universities from denying religious student associations the same funding or benefits available to other groups because of requirements that its members follow the association’s religious beliefs, standards or conduct. The law will take effect July 1 (Senate Bill 175).

KENTUCKY

The Republican-led Senate passed a measure that would expand the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act by barring penalties against those who decline to provide “customized, artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods or services” to people that would infringe on their “right of conscience” or religious freedoms. The measure also applies to people who provide judgments, attestations and commissions. The bill is pending in the Democratic-led House, where House Speaker Greg Stumbo has questioned its constitutionality (Senate Bill 180).

MISSISSIPPI

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law Tuesday asserting a “broad protection of free exercise of religious beliefs.” The measure will prohibit government from taking “any discriminatory action” against religious organizations that decline to host marriages, employ people or facilitate adoption or foster care based on a religious belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person’s anatomy at birth.

Similar protections will cover counselors and at least 13 other categories of wedding-related services, including photographers, disc-jockeys, florists, cake-makers, jewelers and limousine drivers. The bill will allow judges and marriage-license clerks to recuse themselves from same-sex marriages. It also will prohibit government penalties against those who set sex-specific standards for dress codes and the use of restrooms. The law will take effect July 1 (House Bill 1523).

MISSOURI

After ending a 37-hour Democratic filibuster, the Republican-led Senate passed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would bar government penalties against individuals and business such as florists or photographers who cite “a sincere religious belief” while declining to provide “services of expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings and receptions.

The protections also would apply to clergy and religious organizations that decline to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings. If also passed by the Republican-led House, the proposal would go before voters in either the August primary or November general election (Senate Joint Resolution 39).

NEBRASKA

A legislative committee advanced a bill allowing adoption and foster care agencies to decline to facilitate child placements based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” But the bill’s sponsor decided last week not to press forward with the bill, which lacked enough support to overcome a potential filibuster (Legislative Bill 975).

OKLAHOMA

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill last May stating that clergy and other religious officials cannot be required to perform marriages or provide marriage counseling, courses or workshops that violate their conscience or religious beliefs (House Bill 1007).

SOUTH DAKOTA

The Republican-led House passed legislation barring government from taking “discriminatory action” against people, organizations or businesses based on their “sincerely held religious belief” that marriage should be between one man and one women, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person’s biological sex at birth. The bill was tabled in a Senate committee and did not pass before the legislative session ended (House Bill 1107).

TENNESSEE

The Republican-led Senate has passed legislation exempting counselors and therapists from providing services to clients related to behaviors that conflict with “a sincerely held religious belief,” as long as they refer the clients to someone else. The bill is pending in the Republican-led House (Senate Bill 1556).

TEXAS

Just two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must allow gay marriage, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law last June stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for wedding celebrations that violate a “sincerely held religious belief” (Senate Bill 2065).

VIRGINIA

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a Republican-passed bill stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be penalized for declining to participate in same-sex marriages (Senate Bill 41). The House also passed a bill that would bar the government from taking any “discriminatory action” against people, organizations or businesses based on their “sincerely held religious belief” that marriage should be between one man and one women, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person’s biological sex at birth. That bill was altered by the Senate and ultimately failed to pass before the legislative session ended (House Bill 773).

WEST VIRGINIA

The Republican-led House passed a bill modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating that government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless by the least restrictive means for a compelling government interest. The bill was amended in the Republican-led Senate to state that it would not apply to any anti-discrimination ordinances or child vaccination requirements. Senators then defeated the revised bill (House Bill 4012).

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