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ACLU Says Ohio’s Religious Freedom Bill Could Allow Discrimination

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 6:44 PM

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Democratic State Rep. Bill Patmon, the bill's sponsor. (Ohio House of Representatives)

Arizona’s governor is expected to veto a bill in that state that could give businesses the right to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds. There’s a bill addressing religious freedom that’s been introduced in the Ohio House. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the sponsor of that bill says it won’t allow discrimination, but civil rights advocates are not so sure.

In the past few days, a pizza shop owner in Arizona put up a sign denying service to Republican lawmakers who passed the contentious bill in that state’s legislature.

Gay rights advocates say the bill would allow businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, under the guise of exercising their religious beliefs. 

There’s also a religious freedom bill being considered here in the Ohio legislature. Democratic State Rep. Bill Patmon is one of its sponsors. But he says it’s not like the Arizona legislation.

“Our bill and the intention of our bill is to do a reflection of the federal law that’s in place now, that governs federal actions—to do that in the case of the state,” Patmon said. “Clearly, we were not anticipating Arizona. People trying to say everything that looks like anything that is like it—but it is not.”

Patmon says the bill under consideration in the Ohio House is written to protect religious freedom of Ohioans.

“It will protect you if you want to exercise your faith at work,” he said. “If you want to pray, if you wanted to wear a cross, if you wanted to exhibit something at your school that doesn’t interfere with government interest, we would apply the strict scrutiny test to it and say you can do that, because it is not in our interest to ban people from wearing yarmulkes or any of that.”

“I think it opens the exact same doors that the Arizona bill does,” said Nick Worner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. He said the fact is that Ohio’s bill is full of unintended consequences.

“And it’s not just Arizona either,” Worner said. “We’ve got Kansas and Mississippi and a number of other states that are dealing with the unintended consequences of this. I say unintended because it may very well be true that the sponsors didn’t have these consequences in mind, but the fact of the matter is it allows for it. If they had other things in mind, like religious garb and clothing and prayer and things like that, they already have the first amendment—not to mention us, who have defended people in situations like that and already prevailed in court. The issue is the unintended consequences – the license to discriminate that this creates.”

Ohio’s religious freedom bill is in the beginning stages of the legislative process. It has about three dozen cosponsors.

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