News (USA)

One state is trying to stop businesses from citing religion to discriminate

Some Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts are taking a stand to stop corporations from using religious objections to discriminate.

State legislation sponsored by Rep. Michael Day and five other Democrats would work to close a loophole that allowed corporations and retailers like Hobby Lobby to claim religious objections as they discriminate against employees and consumers.

The bill would enshrine in state law that “the powers of a business corporation do not include assertion — based on the purported religious belief or moral conviction on the part of the corporation, its officers, or directors — of exemptions from, or claims or defenses against, federal or state law prohibiting discrimination.”

“This bill is not a symbolic filing,” Day wrote in an email to LGBTQ Nation. “H.767 takes a targeted and narrow approach to this problem by simply preventing for-profit business corporations from claiming moral convictions or religious beliefs to abuse a corporate exemption and violate our civil-rights laws.”

In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby as it cited religious objections in denying employees no-cost access to contraception benefits.

In describing the bill, Day specifically cited the Hobby Lobby decision and the federal case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. A Colorado baker had claimed his Christian faith allowed him to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The case, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2017, has the potential to allow businesses to cite religious objections to deny goods and services to LGBTQ people.

Day’s legislation would apply only to for-profit corporations in Massachusetts, with no effect on non-profits, he said.

“This bill shuts the door in Massachusetts to tactics that seek to use a legal creation to perpetuate discriminatory acts,” Day said. “If we pass this, we will affirm that, if you violate our civil rights laws here, you will be held responsible for your actions.”

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