(UPDATED) Maine Takes Up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”
UPDATE (1/24/14): The Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted against the measure, 9-4. Senator Linda Valentino (D-York), who serves as chair of the committee, later issued the following statement:
“I support and believe strongly in the First Amendment which provides for religious freedom. This bill would do nothing more than foster and legalize discrimination. We’ve come too far to take such a drastic step backward. One danger of this measure is the unintended consequences. Because your religion ‘says so’ does not mean you have carte blanche to break the law.”
The bill will now go before the Senate for another vote.
(Originally posted 1/19/14)
LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom” was held over from earlier in the session and had a public hearing on January 16th before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Among those to speak in opposition to the bill, which opponents say will lead to legalized discrimination was Maine’s Attorney General, Janet T. Mills. Below is her testimony as presented to the committee.
An overview via EqualityMaine:
- Everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected, but no one should be above the law.
- LD 1428 would allow anyone who claims that a law or regulation has burdened their religious freedom to sue for monetary damages, no matter how minor, incidental or indirect the alleged infringement is.
- It creates a pre-emptive cause of action, allowing someone to sue if they merely expect their religious freedom to be burdened, without showing harm.
- It makes no exceptions for civil rights, health care, criminal behavior or public safety.
Maine already has strong protections for religious freedom.
- The Maine Constitution and the U.S. Constitution explicitly protect religious freedom.
- The Maine Human Rights Act explicitly protects people from discrimination on the basis of religion.
- There are 13 individual statues in Maine that protect religious freedom in everything from property tax, to militia service, to immunization and school absences for children.
LD 1428 creates many problems and solves none.
- Religious freedom is protected in Maine, and there is no evidence that Maine’s existing religious protections are not working.
- Maine already has a law that says that doctors and nurses can’t be required to participate in the performance of an abortion, if they object. LD 1428 would, however, open the door to possible claims by health care professionals that they have the right to refuse to provide any medical service based on their religious beliefs, regardless of existing state laws or governing standards of care.
- This proposal creates a gaping exemption to every Maine law, allowing people to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to break laws that apply to everyone else.
- LD 1428 would circumvent the non-discrimination laws and their requirements that any individual or entity treat all persons fairly, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
- This bill could dramatically increase the number of lawsuits against state and local governments, and cause them to incur large legal costs.
Laws like LD 1428 have fostered lawsuits and discrimination in other states.
- In Texas, a public bus driver refused to drive a passenger to Planned Parenthood, citing his religious beliefs. (Graning v. Capital Area Transportation System)
- In Florida, an employer who believed pregnancy outside of marriage is a sin fired an unmarried pregnant employee. (Hamilton v. Southland Christian School)
- In Georgia, a student enrolled in a university counseling program claimed that she had the religiously based right to defy professional standards and condemn gay clients. (Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley)
ACLU of Maine shared statements of some of the opponents who spoke.
Rev. Sue Gabrielson:
“LD 1428 would actually foster discrimination, by undermining our non-discrimination laws and the understanding that people treat others fairly, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. As people of faith, we honor the inherent worth and dignity of all people and reject any law that would allow discrimination against Mainers in the name of religious freedom.”
“Throughout the immigrant community here in Maine, there are many people who have fled violence and persecution based on religious or ethnic discrimination with the hope of a peaceful new beginning here in a country where “all men are created equal”. The blessing of America is that our freedoms are protected – including freedom of religion – but discrimination is not. As a Christian I am glad that I have the freedom to practice my religion. But I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to decide that your personal beliefs entitle you to break laws that protect us all. Once we start down the slippery slope of allowing someone to use their religious beliefs to pick and choose the laws that they need to follow, we start down a path that has caused violence and persecution in other nations around the world.”
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, protected by the constitutions of Maine and the United States, and we will always fight for the right of individuals to believe what they choose. But LD 1428 goes far beyond protecting religious freedom, so far that it would allow people to use their religion to ignore important laws that are meant to protect the common good of all Mainers. This bill is a solution in search of a problem, and in fact it creates far more problems than it solves. The legislature should reject it.”
The bill next comes up for a January 23 work session.