Impose burdens on people’s faith and you get sued
For the first time ever, a bill proposed in the Utah House of Representatives could place freedom of religion above other constitutionally protected rights and recognize religion as a defense against allegations of discrimination.
Sponsored by LaVar Christensen, a Republican, and known as the Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act, HB322 would allow people of faith to sue others for imposing on their beliefs.
The bill is a bid to give sweeping protection to religious liberties. Analysts say because it goes further than any other state, it may raise significant constitutional issues and be susceptible to a court challenge on multiple fronts.
One of the provisions requires “government and private individuals that impose a law or action that substantially burdens another’s religious liberty to balance certain requirements in order to lawfully enforce or recognize the law or action.”
“The proposed act may be subject to challenge in court because it expands religious protections to an extent not currently recognized by the courts,” wrote legislative attorney Eric Weeks in the memo obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. “Consequently, it is impossible to effectively evaluate its constitutionality or its practical effect on the balance between civil rights and the free exercise of religion.”
“We are working closely and very carefully to make sure that these protections are fairly applied and balanced for the benefit of all,” said Christensen.
Because the measure restricts actions by private entities and individuals that might influence another person’s religious beliefs, many of Christensen’s colleagues are not in favor of the bill. Lawmakers are looking for a way to balance religious liberties and protections from employment and housing discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns, after the LDS church called for a pairing of the two.
Top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced last month they supported both the passage of statewide nondiscrimination protections for gay and lesbian Utahns, and the religious freedom of those who oppose homosexuality. The LDS church is caught in an intensifying conflict between LGBT advocates and the religious right.
“We’d like something that reflects … the sentiment from the [LDS] church about how we treat everybody with respect and dignity,” said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. “I believe we have a bill that is beginning a process.”
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