Published April 06, 2016
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Source: Associated Press research.