A new law proposed in the Ohio state House could change the
way courts handle your religious freedoms.
The proposed Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act aims to
make sure citizens are able to freely express their religion. This
legislation resembles a federal law passed in 1993 restoring a requirement for
courts to use "strict scrutiny" in cases about religious freedoms.
In our commitment to balanced news, supporters of the
measure say this bill would help people exercising their First Amendment rights
when their religious freedoms become challenged.
But, on the flip side, opponents say legislation like this
is "unnecessary" and a "bad policy" adding this bill would allow anyone to
claim a burden, and not always for religious conduct, but also for any action
motivated by religious beliefs.
This is a statement issued to FOX19 from Patrick Elliott, a
staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
The bill is both unnecessary and bad
The Ohio Constitution, Sec. 1.07,
already protects from "any interference with the rights of conscience." The
bill is also an abysmal failure if it is intended to entangle religion and
public schools. Legislators cannot carve out exceptions to the U.S.
Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.
The bill would broadly allow anyone to
claim a "burden," not just substantial burdens and not just for
religious conduct but also for any action that is "substantially motivated" by
religious beliefs. Religion could be used as a justification for discrimination
in places of public accommodation, housing, and employment. This broad
exemption from generally applicable laws is dangerous and could be far-reaching.
The First Amendment protects things like freedom of speech,
the right to peacefully assemble and freedom of religion. That's why Rep.
Timothy Derickson (R-Oxford) helped created Ohio House Bill 376.
"We're such a melting pot in
this country, let alone my own neighbors. We all have very diverse
views. What this bill will do is protect those views," said Derickson.
Derickson says this law would
protect people in situations like putting up a Christmas nativity scene, or
wearing a necklace with a cross, or even saying a prayer while in school.
"The court would need to
prove a compelling government interest, and take the least restrictive means
possible when burdening an individual's religious rights," Derickson told
But, the idea of the bill
continues the divide over the freedom of religion issue with at least one
"It would be really
dangerous, and have a wide, or very broad impact in terms of giving people who
violate the law specifically, a potential exemption because of their religious
beliefs," Patrick Elliott told FOX19 over the phone. Elliott is a staff
attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
But, Derickson points to his oath
of office as motivation for trying to get this law on the books.
"It shall be the duty of the
General Assembly to pass suitable laws that protect every religious
denomination. And, I see this as my duty," said Derickson.
Derickson, a Republican, introduced the bill with Democrat,
Rep. Bill Patmon from Cleveland. So far, the bill has more than three
dozen co-sponsors, and will now head to a committee for review.
Derickson says there are already 18 other states that have
implemented Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.