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Lawmakers Pull Ohio Religious Freedom Bill After Comparisons to Arizona Legislation

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 6:02 PM

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State Reps. Bill Patmon, left, and Tim Derickson (Photo: Ohio House of Representatives)

A controversial, so-called “religious freedom” bill in the Ohio legislature is being pulled. The legislation, similar to the bill that recently passed in Arizona, has been widely criticized for opening the door to discrimination against LGBT Ohioans. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on why the Ohio legislation is dead for now.

One of the sponsors of the religious freedom bill being considered in the Ohio legislature, Democratic Rep. Bill Patmon, says the plan is dead.

“We are pulling the bill, the entire bill, not just support or anything, but the bill is being pulled off of the legislative agenda—and by my request,” Patmon said. “And there is too much of a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what’s going on in this particular case. And when you find that, then you have to maybe go back to the drawing board, because we are not Arizona nor were we ever intended to be or to have a bill that is reflective of what they’re doing.”

Patmon says he was pushing the bill because he wanted to make sure there were protections for people who wear a cross necklace, a yarmulke or some other religious symbol in their workplaces.

But critics of this bill said it could open the door to widespread discrimination of gay Ohioans. Patmon said the language in this bill was not clear enough.

“There are different interpretations of it,” he said. “That’s a concern for me. I don’t want three different interpretations, whether it’s the ACLU or anyone else. There should be only one. And that is our intent to make sure people have religious freedom.”

Patmon’s cosponsor on this legislation, Republican State Rep. Tim Derickson, is willing to pull the bill. Spencer Gross, Derickson’s legislative aide, said the two representatives mutually decided to suspend the bill.

“Through the legislative process, it kind of became clear that there were some unintentional consequences that could result from the bill’s implementation,” Gross said. “We wanted this to be something that would protect Ohioans of all faiths and their religious liberties, and it wasn’t the intent to make this a discrimination bill.”

The sponsors of the Ohio bill being pulled said they would like to pursue a religious freedom bill in the future. But for now, the legislation is dead. 

That’s welcome news as far as Ian James is concerned. James, a leader with the gay rights group FreedomOhio said the language in the Ohio bill was very close to the language in the Arizona legislation. James says he thinks sponsors of this bill didn’t realize it could have unintended consequences. And James does not want sponsors to come back with another similar bill in the future. 

There’s a famous quote by Bob Dylan that says, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” James said if lawmakers come back with another bill like this in the future, businesses will swear off putting dollars into Ohio’s economy.

“Companies will come out in strong opposition to this, I’m sure,” James said. “Because they see this is not the way for Ohio to go forward. It’s a bad bill. It’s dangerous.”

For his part, Patmon, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he will not support any legislation that would discriminate.

“Given who I am,” Patmon said, “there’s no way I can be in favor of discrimination.”

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