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Legislators differ on religious rights and anti-gay discrimination

Would a new law help legitimate rights without hurting other people's rights? Some lawmakers sees a chance that discrimination against gays would be supported.
Sen. Mike Padden

Sen. Mike Padden Credit: John Stang

Sen. Adam Kline

Sen. Adam Kline Credit: John Stang

Sen. Steve O'Ban

Sen. Steve O'Ban Credit: John Stang

It's how you parse the words. And how a lawyer reads in between the lines.

A proposed religious freedom bill could be a tool to legally survive an anti-discrimination lawsuit. Or it could be a way to ensure all of Washington's existing freedom-of-religion safeguards are gathered into a simple-to-grasp master law.

Sens. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Adam Kline, D-Seattle, see that bill in different lights.

Padden and Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-Pierce County, drafted the proposed bill to address how individuals can keep their religious rights when legally threatened. Padden said scenarios that concern him include a case of baptism being forbidden at the Capitol campus' Heritage Park in Olympia while secular protests are allowed, plus ensuring that churches renting school property for activities can be allowed to continue to do so.

 "Having this statute in instead of a lot of case law makes everything clearer," Padden said.

But Kline sees the bill as a way for people who discriminate to be able to claim religious exemptions from the law, allowing their positions to be upheld on appeal. He contended it would help future cases similar to two Olympia pharmacists who were sued for refusing to stock "morning-after" birth control pills due to religious reasons, and a Richland florist refusing to provide flowers to a gay wedding because of religious reasons.

 "It's intent is for discriminating businesses to prevail in court," Kline said.

Padden and Kline both contended the other's examples — baptism in parks versus refusal to serve gay weddings — are not the real targets of the bill.

The proposed bill has a somewhat similar focus as a  bill introduced at the end of the Legislature's regular 2013 session by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. Brown's bill went nowhere because it was introduced three days prior to the regular session ending. Her bill was prompted by the Richland flower shop case. One difference in the language of the new proposal and Brown's bill is that her legislation would allow people to refuse service to others because of religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or matters of conscience — while the new bill mentions only religious beliefs. The new bill would forbid government and private lawsuits on religious beliefs unless the state can provide "compelling government justification" for legal action.

The Washington Senate Law & Justice Committee discussed the proposal Wednesday in Burien in front of about 65 people. Padden is the committee's chairman, and O'Ban is its vice chairman. Kline is the committee's ranking Democrat. O'Ban is one of the attorneys representing the Olympia pharmacists in the case's appeal to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The committee was briefed by its attorney, Tim Ford, University of Gonzaga law professor David DeWolf and Steve McFarland, attorney for Federal Way-based World Vision, which conducts relief efforts overseas. In 2010, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals upheld World Vision's firing of three employees — at least two being Christian — because their interpretation of Jesus being part of the Holy Trinity was different from the organization's view.

DeWolf had reviewed the draft bill for Padden. "This bill does not effect a radical change in the law. Quite the contrary. It provides clear guidance to government agencies, courts, religious bodies, businesses and private citizens to the scope of the religious freedom guarantee already found in the state constitution. ... Failing to pass this bill would leave courts, government agencies, religious bodies and private citizens in the unenviable position of guessing what the state constitution wants," DeWolf said.

DeWolf argued that religion is a private matter and religiously observant citizens should not be penalized for their beliefs. The bill "is kind of a religious insurance policy," McFarland said.

McFarland said a claimant would have to show a legitimate, longstanding belief to seek a religious exemption from a state law, while governments would have to show a highly compelling state interst to overrule an individual's religious stance. "This does not give an automatic get-out--of-jail-free card or free pass to religious claimants," McFarland said.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

its doubtful this measure would pass constitutional muster - the state constitution says the right to religious freedom does not include 'acts of licentiousness' - acting as one will without regard for the rights of others, which in this case would be the customer's own right to religious freedom even if that includes beliefs the business doesn't share.

There is no right to religious discrimination - that is the down side of a constitutional right to religious freedom. The recent decisions about the 'morning after pill' locally and the Supreme Court ruling involving the goat that wouldn't be sold for religious sacrifice all center around the government can not have any part of a religious litmus test regarding businesses, for or against. Carving out a religious exception is both federally and, most certainly, state unconstitutional. Either the business sells goats for slaughter or they don't. Either a business can decide for themselves to sell the 'morning after pill' or they can't. Either a public accommodation sells wedding floral arrangements or they don't. If they do in any of these cases they can't use a religious litmus test to discriminate which customers they will serve and which ones they won't - the customer's right to religious freedom trumps the non-existent right of religious discrimination.

BobVB

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

In each one of these cases, there is a very clear disparity of outcomes in the "religious freedom or discrimination" argument. If you rule in favor of religious freedom, the outcome is someone else finding another vender or venue, something very easily accomplished with very little cost to the so-called victim in virtually every instance. If you rule in favor of discrimination, you put business, employers, employees and families out of work which not only impacts the people involved but also impacts everyone else in the community. Religious freedom should be paramount because it ends up being the only true barrier to a police state. Wht God giveth, the government should not be able to taketh away. That was the whole point behind the Bill of Rights.

Posted Sat, Sep 14, 3:09 p.m. Inappropriate

"the outcome is someone else finding another vender or venue, something very easily accomplished with very little cost to the so-called victim in virtually every instance."

This may be so in a dense, urban area, where there are often multiple vendors competing for customers. But it's not always the case in other parts of the state.

sandik

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Ruling in regard to religious freedom would be having the business sell to the customer regardless of the customer's religious beliefs. And allowing a single entity, the business, to religiously discriminate potentially interferes with the religious freedom of multiple customers. So I agree religious freedom is paramount, that's why there shouldn't be any religious litmus tests approved by the government regarding public accommodations - every member of the public has a right NOT to meet the religious standards of a business and still be able to do business.

The state constitution specifically prohibits licentious religious discrimination and the US constitution makes it impossible by acknowledging everyone's right to freedom of religion. This legislation would be unconstitutional in Washington, and incompatible with the the American ideals of universal religious freedom.

Face it, if a goat must be sold even if it is going to be used for a religious sacrifice, what chance is there you don't have to sell flower arrangements because you don't like some quality of the couple getting married?

Just say 'no' to businesses using religious litmus tests.

BobVB

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

We need to recognize not just the truth of the curiously limited warning implicit in Sen. Kline's analysis but the underlying fact the emergence of Senate Bill 3090 marks the beginning of yet another offensive in the Christian war against human sexuality. Its intent is to counter the deservedly legendary secular-mindedness of Washingtonians with a measure that would put the state on a downhill slide toward Christian theocracy. If enacted, it would literally redefine “religious freedom” as the right of Christians to persecute nonbelievers.

No doubt the Roman Catholic Church is a major unspoken force behind this Sharia-like proposal. Its passage would facilitate the ban on birth control and abortion the Church has been trying to impose extra-legally by buying most of the state's health care facilities (see for example http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/faith-healers/Content?oid=16050396). These purchases also effectively nullify the Death with Dignity Act passed in 2008 by Initiative 1000. Indeed, the Church's campaign against contraception has been so aggressive even Group Health is surrendering to it, for which see http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021696947_ghcabortionxml.html .

While Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-28) is a Presbyterian, a Washblog post reveals his misogyny and homophobia equals and perhaps exceeds that of any member of the Catholic hierarchy. The post (for which go to http://www.washblog.com/story/2010/7/17/125615/880), discloses O'Ban's long history of activism on behalf of Christian fanaticism and some of his many connections to pro-theocracy organizations. It also exposes his efforts to hide his fanaticism from the voters of the 28th Legislative District, 53 percent of whom voted for I-1000. Given the relevance of this material to O'Ban's efforts on behalf SB 3090, any discussion that omits it is thus gravely weakened.

Though the dire threat of Christian theocracy and the effort to replace the remnants of our Constitution with Biblical law is not sufficiently recognized, at least two current books lay it bare in frightening detail. These are The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Jeff Sharlet; Harper: 2008), and American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America (Chris Hedges; Free Press/Simon and Schuster Inc.: 2006). Either of these works – better yet both of them together – will put SB 3090 in proper perspective.

(Disclosure: I am a voting member of the Group Health Cooperative.)

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 7:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The god likes and the god hates will, of course, take opposite sides and neither can see the middle ground. Personally I don't think god cares for either side in this inane argument. The legislation doesn't create one job outside of the law profession and is all about spending time in court wasting tax dollars for not good reason.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Sep 12, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

This is just another attempt by the theocrats to make this country a religious dictatorship - a theocracy. It would legalize discrimination based on whatever anyone clams is a "long held" religious belief. Well, christian extremists have long held that burning non-christians at the stake is God's will. This is just another step on their attempt to drag the rest of us along to the hell they want to impose on society.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Sep 13, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Basically, Sens. Padden and O'Ban want Christians like themselves to be able to do whatever they want (no matter how 'unChristian') and everyone else to just suck it up.

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