LANSING — State Representative Adam F. Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) was deeply troubled by what could come with the passage of House Bill 5958, which creates a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Michigan. The bill passed strictly along party lines, 59-50. The bill allows any person or business to sue claiming that a particular law violates their religious belief.
A federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed more than 20 years ago, but subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional and that it does not apply to state and local governments. Religious groups sought similar legislation at the state level as the House debated adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Despite those protections not receiving approval, the Michigan RFRA advanced.
“The issue of protecting one’s religious freedom is deeply important, and Elliot-Larsen already does this: listing religion as a protected class and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of one’s faith,” Zemke said. “Meanwhile, LGBT residents remain subject to legal discrimination because of the failure of lawmakers to add needed protections to our laws.”
The consequences of the RFRA could be unintended and far-reaching. Other states with similar legislation have seen individuals challenge zoning laws and historic preservation ordinances. The federal RFRA has been the basis for prisoners challenging simple prison regulations and for the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and take women’s health care choices out of their hands. “As one of my colleagues pointed out, former Republican Gov. John Engler shied away from passing a law like RFRA precisely because of these unforeseen consequences,” Zemke said.”