By Bob Allen
Americans United for Separation of Church and State enumerated five of the year’s worst legislative ideas — so far — in a new online tool tracking “religious freedom” bills in state legislatures and Congress that AU believes are intended to foster discrimination against LGBT people.
AU’s legislative tracking page is part of a project called Protect Thy Neighbor launched last July to counter attempts by the Religious Right to conflate religious liberty with the right to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
The first installment Jan. 12 highlighted bills expected or already introduced in Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Kentucky and New Mexico that AU views as especially dangerous.
“It was hard to limit our list of terrible ideas to just five,” acknowledged an AU blog. “There are so many other bills that we are already tracking, and we expect many more as the state sessions proceed.”
AU plans to update the bill tracker twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays.
A Jan. 14 update spotlighted four pre-filed bills in Kentucky that would allow individuals, including government officials, to deny marriage licenses or refuse to solemnize marriage, all in reaction to county clerk Kim Davis’ highly publicized refusal last year to sign marriage licenses for LGBT couples because of her religion.
A similar bill has been filed in Virginia.
Other measures being watched are fights carrying over from last year over “religious freedom” bills that critics say would allow private business owners to refuse services to people because they are gay.
Florida’s HB 401 would allow adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples for religious reasons, and certain businesses in the state could deny them products or services.
Carried over from last year, Georgia’s SB 129 is one of a number of Religious Freedom Restoration Act bills expected to crop up in 2016.
The federal RFRA, adopted a law passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Clinton, was intended to help prevent laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.
Some of the new state RFRAs go further, adding protections for small business owners like bakers, florists and photographers who violate public-accommodation laws by refusing services to same-sex weddings because of their religious beliefs.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has already announced plans to repeat last year’s fight over a RFRA bill that was toned down after boycott threats from the business community.
New Mexico lawmakers will debate HB 85, a proposal to expand the state’s existing RFRA law.
“We expect to see a lot of bills like this in 2016, and we hope to make this list as comprehensive as possible,” said Robert Boston, AU’s director of communications.