Religious Freedom Restoration Act Passes in Michigan House

The Michigan House Judiciary committee and House of Representatives passed a bill today providing protections for people with sincerely held religious beliefs. The bill, HR-5958 The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, will now move to the state Senate to be examined, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, who sponsored the bill, said it will protect people, their beliefs, and their religious practices. Bolger cited examples, including a baker who did not want to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple and a Jewish woman who did not want her deceased son to have an autopsy because of their deeply held beliefs.

“This is not a license to discriminate,” Bolger said. “People simply want their government to allow them to practice their faith in peace.”

Opponents say the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a vehicle of discrimination.

USA Today reports state Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, is against the measure.

“The free exercise of religion is one of the most basic principles in our state and federal constitutions,” said Barnett. “This bill moves us in a new and uncharted direction. It requires me and others to practice the faith of our employers, grocers and pharmacists.”

Hill is joined by other detractors including Susan Grettenberger, a Central Michigan University professor and social worker. Grettenberger said the religious freedom bill could have seriously harmful consequences, and gave an example of a social worker who refused to counsel people based on religious beliefs that didn’t support homosexuality.

“Social workers who are opposed to war on religious ground could refuse to serve military members,” she said. “If their religion excludes the use of alcohol, they could refuse a client with substance abuse problems.”

Constitutional law expert William Wagner disagrees with opponents of the bill, and says their examples aren’t valid, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“This is about asserting a religious belief against a government action,” he said, not between individuals. “The question is, are we still going to be tolerant of religious communities.”

The Inquisitr reported previously on a case of an elementary school child being allowed to take a knife to class because of religious beliefs. The knife, a Sirpan, is a religious symbol of the Sikh religion, and the child was allowed to carry it as part of his religious tradition.

Amendments to the measure offered by Democrats would have required that the law state clearly that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would not interfere with the protections offered by the state’s civil rights act; that a person asserting a sincerely held religious belief claim provide proof either through tithing to their church or evidence of community service; or that local communities be allowed to pass their own ordinances. All the amendments failed, and all the Democrats on the committee and in the full House opposed the bill, while all the Republicans supported it.