Discrimination: A God-given Right; Religious Freedom in Indiana & Arkansas – Video

Discrimination: A God-given Right; Religious Freedom in Indiana Arkansas
Liberals have attacked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in both Indiana and Arkansas as endorsing discrimination against LGBT people. This bill was about freedomnot about same-sex …

By: Jesse Lee Peterson

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Discrimination: A God-given Right; Religious Freedom in Indiana & Arkansas – Video

After Indiana furor, proposed religious freedom law in Georgia dies

After 14 months of bitter wrangling, Georgias legislative session ended with lawmakers failing to pass a contentious religious freedom bill.

The defeat comes after a nationwide furor over similar legislation in Indiana and Arkansas. Opponents argued that the bill would provide a legal basis for discrimination against gays and lesbians. On Tuesday, demonstrators marched to the Capitol here, carrying signs reading, No discrimination in Georgia and We are not Indiana.

The proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have forbid governments from infringing on a persons exercise of religion without compelling interest. It would have covered individuals and religious organizations, as well as companies with a small number of shareholders.

The bill was adopted by Georgia’s Senate on March 5, then languished in the House. As gay rights activists rallied against the bill, a rift emerged in Georgia’s GOP.

In the end, it was a Republican House member who scuppered the bill by adding language last week that would prevent it from being used as a defense for discrimination. The bills sponsors immediately tabled the proposal, and the legislative session ended Thursday.

In a telephone interview Friday, state Sen. Joshua McKoon vowed he would try to revive the bill next January. Weve got a handful of people made nervous by this smear campaign, he said. If we had had floor vote yesterday, Im confident it would have passed.

For Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who had indicated he would support legislation that mirrored the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the dispute over the bill had become too rancorous. On Thursday, he urged lawmakers who sought to revive the bill to stick to the language of the 1993 act and to include an anti-discrimination clause.

McKoon said he intended to hew to federal law and to resist adding what he described as unnecessary anti-discrimination language. Its a tempest in a teapot, he said. A handful of professional activists have done a fantastic job of misrepresenting what this legislation is about. If you want to get down to brass tacks: Are we going to see people denied medical treatment, or mistreated in any way? No. It’s a firm no. Theres no gray area.

The federal religious freedom act applies only to the federal government, not to states and other local municipalities. Over the years, 21 states have passed their own versions of the law.

Opponents say this bill is going to allow people to discriminate in the name of religion, McKoon said. If thats the case, can you point to a single case when the statute was used to discriminate against someone?

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After Indiana furor, proposed religious freedom law in Georgia dies

Madison, Wis., Council Votes To Ban Discrimination Against Atheism

In what is believed to be a first in the United States, the common council of Madison, Wis., has voted to amend the city’s equal opportunities ordinance “to add nonreligion as a protected class.”

The legislation adds atheists to the categories of people who could potentially face discrimination. It was co-sponsored by 14 of the council’s 20 members and approved without objection Tuesday night.

“This is important because I believe it is only fair that if we protect religion, in all its varieties, we should also protect non-religion from discrimination. It’s only fair,” said Alderwoman Anita Weier, the bill’s chief sponsor, according to Madison’s WISC TV.

The addition of atheism to the ranks of protected classes comes at a time when “religious freedom” laws are in the spotlight particularly in Indiana, where a controversial new law is seen as allowing businesses to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Madison’s amendment will take effect when it’s officially published, a step that follows the mayor’s signing of the council’s proceedings.

Several representatives from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is based in Madison, spoke in favor of the bill at last night’s council meeting.

“We encourage freethought activists including the increasing number of local public officials who are atheists or agnostics to work to introduce and replicate this protection at their city, county or even state levels,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says.

The new legislation inserts the words “or atheism” after “religion” in several sections of the city of Madison’s legal code.

For example, here’s how the city lists its protected class:

“Protected class membership means a group of natural persons, or a natural person, who may be categorized because of their ability to satisfy the definition of one or more of the following groups or classes: sex, race, religion or atheism, color, national origin or ancestry, citizenship status, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income, arrest record or conviction record, less than honorable discharge, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic identity, political beliefs, familial status, student, domestic partner, or receipt of rental assistance.”

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Madison, Wis., Council Votes To Ban Discrimination Against Atheism

The Fix: Indiana is the battle over religious freedom that Arizona never was

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence vigorously defended the states new religious objections law. Businesses and organizations including the NCAA pressed concerns that it could open the door to legalizing discrimination against gay people. (AP)

In 2014, Arizona’s so-called religious freedom bill never stood a chance.The bill sought to giveindividuals and businessesexemptions from laws that burdened their religious beliefs, but was criticized for being too broadly worded — with all sorts of legal loopholes and the possibility of legalizing discrimination against people because of their sexuality or gender identity. It wasopposed by a host of companies, both Arizona’sRepublican U.S. Senators, Mitt Romney, and even three of the Republican lawmakers who originally voted for it but changed their mind.When Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the bill six days after it was passed, it seemed likethe end of the road for such legislation. It was opposed by a host of companies, both its Republican U.S. Senators, Mitt Romney, and even three of the Republican lawmakers who originally voted for it but changed their mind.

But, get ready because the battle over religious freedom isback. Brewer may have backed down but Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has takenup the fight, and Indiana is turning into the battleground over religious freedom that Arizona never was.

While Indiana has begun to feel the heat from businesses (and the NCAA, which is hosting the Final Four in Indianapolis next week), it doesn’t face two particular pressuresArizona did: (1) hosting a Super Bowl the following year and (2) a pre-existing narrative that it’s an intolerant state. Arizona already lost Super Bowl hosting duties once before, in 1993, because it didn’t recognize Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as a state holiday. And coupled with the furor over SB 1070, the controversial immigration enforcement law Brewer signed in 2010, the state was on the verge of becoming known for intolerance, not a good thing for business and tourism. Brewer said she vetoed the bill because it would have created more problems than it solved, but it didn’t hurt that the state’s economy also could have suffered.

But since the Arizona veto, religious freedomhas also had two major victories: 1) the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case giving the company the right to exercise religious beliefs when it came to contraception and 2) Utah’s religious freedom bill which passed with support from LGBT groups.

Pence mentioned the Hobby Lobby case in his statement about his state’s bill, and said that while the Court upheld the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the nationallevel, it didn’t protect at the state and local. He positioned his bill as an extension offederal law signed by a Democrat, President Clinton.

The Utah bill shows there is a middle ground for religious and LGBT protections, but it’s not necessarily a blueprint for other states since it’s specifically tailored to the state’s largest religion, Mormonism. It exempts things like religious organization-ownedhousing (like Church-owned Brigham Young University) and Boy Scouts (the Church participates heavily in scouting). Groups like HRC and Equality Utah supported the measure, but the response from social conservatives was muted, in part because it didn’t exemptyourcakebakers and photographers.

But Utah’s bill is in line with how a majority of Americans feel about the issue. When you ask about specific religious exemptions, people are more supportive than when asked about broadly allowing businesses to refuse services to people because of their sexuality. A January Associated Press poll found 57 percent of Americans thinkwedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

But when asked more generally if any businesses, not just wedding related, should be allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians, a majority are opposed, according to an April Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Indiana’s bill is much morebroadly wordedthan Utah’s, and so it could be in trouble from a public opinion standpoint. But the landscape is different than it was for Brewer’s Arizona veto, which might be why, despite the controversy the Grand Canyon state experienced, Pence signed his bill and sees this asa fight he can win.

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The Fix: Indiana is the battle over religious freedom that Arizona never was

Indiana Governor Signs State Religious Freedom Restoration Act

INDIANAPOLIS The governor of Indiana signed the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law on Thursday, resisting critics who asserted that the legislation would allow people of faith to discriminate against homosexuals.

Gov. Mike Pencesigned SB 101into law in a closed ceremony, with an estimated 70 t0 80 invited guests attending the event.

Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith, he said in a statement. The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.

The bill mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in the 1990s by then-President Bill Clinton. The legislation prohibits the government from substantially burden[ing] a persons exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means is used in furthering the interest.

Pence noted that while the federal government provides religious freedom protections, some states do not.

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action, he said. In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states [who have passed local legislation] and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.

States that have preceded Indiana in passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act include Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut.

While some have stated that the bill will open the door for discrimination against homosexuals, Pence refuted such claims as the law mentions nothing about homosexuality or any particular issue at all.

This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved, he said. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nations anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change, Pence stated. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith.

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Indiana Governor Signs State Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Legislature OKs bill paving way for WSU medical school

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – A nearly-century old restriction giving the University of Washington in Seattle the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington was removed by the Legislature on Wednesday, opening the door for a new Washington State University medical school in Spokane.

Senators approved House Bill 1559 on a 47-1 vote and the measure now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature. The Senate had previously passed an identical version earlier this month, but took its final vote on the House version of the bill.

Sen. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor who is chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said that the bill was an important step to increase the number of medical students in the state. She noted that the state needs more medical providers and that the measure was a great start in answering that shortage.

By adding WSU as a school that is authorized to establish, operate, and maintain a school of medicine, the bill eliminates a restriction dating from 1917 that gives the University of Washington the exclusive right to do so. The UW medical school admits only 120 Washington medical students each year, though it also currently trains additional medical students in Spokane through a multistate program it runs.

The bills sponsor, Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli of Spokane, said that the state is giving more local students the opportunity to stay in state to continue their education.

A new generation of doctors will engage in cutting-edge community-based training to ensure Washington patients get the care they deserve, he said in a statement in which he thanked Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, who was the Senate sponsor of the measure.

The bill doesnt appropriate any state money to a new school, but lawmakers are in the process of crafting budget proposals for the next two-year state budget.

WSU is estimating it would cost $2.5 million to pursue accreditation for the medical school. If a school is ultimately established, they estimate they would need $60,000 in state funds per student each year.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat from Seattle, was the lone no vote.

He said he had concerns about the amount of money that the school would cost the state, and suggested there were less expensive ways to address physician shortage issues, such as expanding the current multistate program that UW runs, or a loan repayment program.

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Legislature OKs bill paving way for WSU medical school

Arizona Senate committee approves firearms legislation

Phoenix (AP) – Arizonas stand-your-ground and constitutional-carry laws already make the state a favorite for gun owners. On Tuesday, a Republican-dominated Senate committee passed firearms legislation to further broaden state residents Second Amendment rights.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill expanding gun owners rights to carry concealed weapons in public places and another creating an interstate compact to regulate the transfer of firearms. Both proposals passed on a 5-3 vote and now move to the Senate.

House Bill 2320 by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, would allow holders of concealed-carry permit to take their weapons into public buildings such as libraries. The bill says that if public institutions do not want to allow conceal-carry holders to come in with their guns, they must establish security guards and metal detectors at their facilities. The bill exempts some buildings, including those with liquor licenses, hospitals and schools.

The whole point of putting this legislation forward is to honor the people who have a CCW permit, Barton said. Its important that we honor that, and allow them to carry their desired weapon, concealed for self-defense.

Advocates from the Salt River Project, the Arizona State Retirement System and the state Supreme Court lobbied for exceptions for their public buildings. But Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who chairs the committee, refused to offer amendments in committee.

Instead, Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who supports the bill, said Republicans will offer floor amendment to prohibit concealed carriers from bringing weapons into public buildings where it is forbidden by federal law.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said cities and counties shouldnt have to pay for security so that concealed carriers can keep their guns in public buildings. This bill puts a literal gun to the heads of public bodies and says if you really want to keep your public buildings free from weapons youre going to have to pay for it, Farley said.

Maricopa County found that if it prohibited firearms from all 378 county buildings that dont have security, it would cost $47 million in ongoing costs and $9 million in setup costs, according to legislative analysts.

Brewer vetoed similar legislation three times in four years. In 2014, Brewer cited concerns about the fiscal impact on state and local governments. She called the bill an unnecessary diversion of limited resources.

More than 230,000 Arizona residents have concealed-carry permits, according to a Department of Public Safety report from March.

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Arizona Senate committee approves firearms legislation

House expected to take final vote on Religious Freedom Bill


The Religious Freedom Bill is scheduled for another big vote Monday at the Indiana Statehouse.

The House will vote on Senate Bill 101 or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Supporters call it the Religious Freedom Bill. Opponents call it discrimination.

That’s where the battle line is drawn and it drew out both sides in large numbers one week ago when the bill went to a House committee for a vote and passed.

Those in favor of the bill wore green and rallied before the vote saying the bill protects the religious freedoms of business owners who don’t want to compromise their beliefs.

But, the other side, who wore red and rallied against the bill, said the bill would allow businesses to deny services particularly to gays and lesbians if they feel it violates their religious beliefs.

“We want to be able to practice our faith, even in our businesses, in our homes, in our churches without fear of being prosecuted,” said Cindy Holmes, a supporter of the legislation. “We hear stories all over the country where bakers and florists are losing their businesses and homes just because they wanted to practice their own faith.”

“I’m a woman. I’m an African American. I’m also a member of the LGBT community,” said Whittney Murphy in opposition to the bill. “So, if I walk up to a store and there’s a sign that says no LGBT people, I remember reading and learning in history that there were signs that said no AA and that was based off religion as well.”

Opponents will be dropping off 10,000 letters against the proposal Monday to House Speaker Brian Bosma.

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House expected to take final vote on Religious Freedom Bill

Religious freedom bill at the center of Statehouse debate

INDIANAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee has passed the so-called “religious freedom bill” by a 9-4 vote.

Protecting religious freedom was at the center of several demonstrations Monday at the Indiana Statehouse.

The legislation causing the activity is Senate Bill 101 or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was designed to protect the freedoms of people.

For example, a Christian pharmacist who objects to dispensing abortion pills, contrary to their religious beliefs, would be protected under law.

However, those against the bill say it has the potential to do much more than that, including discriminating against those in the gay community. There is also concern the bill could create unintended legal concerns for employers and those looking to do business in Indiana.

There were dueling rallies Monday morning inside the Statehouse both for and against the bill.

Supporters came out strong, wearing their green, saying the bill is all about guaranteeing protections for business owners without worrying about their religious freedoms being jeopardized.

“We want to be able to practice our faith even in our businesses, in our homes, in our churches without fear of being prosecuted,” said supporter Cindy Holmes. “You hear stories all over the country where where bakers and florists are losing their businesses and homes just because they wanted to practice their faiths and stand by their beliefs. We want to be able to do that in Indiana and we don’t believe the Constitution does that for us in complete.”

Those against the bill wore red,sending a message that Hoosiers are against discrimination. They say the bill will discriminate against people, particularly those in the gay community.

“I’m a woman, I’m African American,” said Whittney Murphy in opposition to the legislation. “I’m also a member of the LGBT community. So, if I walk up to a store and there’s a sign that says no LGBT people, I remember reading from history there were signs that said no African Americans and that was based on religion as well.”

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Religious freedom bill at the center of Statehouse debate

Is extremism putting free speech in UK universities under threat?


The University of Oxford had to cancel a debate on abortion last year because people objected that both panelists were male.

Concern that the Islamic State militant ‘Jihadi John’ may have been radicalised while attending a London university has re-stoked the debate about free speech in academic institutions.

Mohammed Emwazi was last week identified as the IS militant who has appeared in numerous beheading videos for IS. Emwazi attended the University of Westminster between 2006 and 2009. Former students have told the press that the university “created a hostile environment towards non-Muslims” and that it was heavily reliant on the income from foreign students, many of whom were Muslim, and so did not sufficiently scrutinise those invited to speak there.

The university has strongly defended the claims. And although the concerns may not prove true, they have prompted the institution to suspend all student events of a “sensitive” nature.

These fears come amid an ongoing debate about the freedom of expression at British universities and it doesn’t just apply to religious groups. Recent cases include Oxford University cancelling a debate on abortion last year because people objected to the fact it was being debated by two men. And among the more bizarre examples are Birmingham University’s ban on sombreros because they were deemed “racist” and UCL’s student union banning the Nietzsche reading group.

Concerns were raised earlier this year by both academics and religious groups about the potential effect of the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. Guidance accompanying the Bill, which was issued in January, said universities would have to monitor groups on campus and vet talks and speakers.

While most Christians would support attempts to crack down on radicalisation, there were fears that this could have a negative impact on Christian unions and evangelical organisations hosting events at British universities.

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) said at the time the Bill was being debated that although they supported government efforts to combat terrorism, there needed to be a distinction between Islamist radicalisation and the work of Christian unions. “The basic tenets of the Christian faith have nothing to do with terrorism, so what possible justification can there be for jeopardising time-honoured freedoms in an attempt to counter Islamist threats?” the chairman of the board of trustees John Lenton and director Richard Cunningham said in a joint statement.

Academics also saidin February that the proposed legislation was a threat to freedom of speech and would place an “unenforceable duty on educational institutions”. The government responded to these concerns, and proposed amendments to protect the freedom of expression in universities.

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Is extremism putting free speech in UK universities under threat?

Editorial: If Texans' health care subsidies disappear, we need a plan

Regardless of your politics, the possibility that fellow Texans and millions more Americans nationwide who bought insurance under the Affordable Care Act could return to the ranks of the uninsured is a serious matter.

Yet this is what is at stake when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in King vs. Burwell. More than 1 million Texans who now have health insurance through federally run exchanges may not be allowed to keep their coverage.

Imagine the devastating effect if the cost of your health care premiums tripled, which could happen if the federal subsidies many count on suddenly disappear. Most people eligible for subsidies have modest incomes; many would be unable to afford any coverage without financial help, adding to the ranks of the uninsured.

Texas already leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents; the state doesnt need to toss more people into health care limbo.

However, if the Supreme Court hands down a problematic Burwell ruling, Texas lawmakers can ease the shock. State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, recently introduced HB 817 as a safety net. If the court says Texans cant receive subsidies through federally run exchanges, the bill would automatically trigger the creation of a state-run health care exchange that would allow Texans to continue to receive federal subsidies and keep their existing coverage.

The legal issue before the court is whether people who live in states like Texas that did not establish a state-run health care exchange are eligible to receive federal tax subsidies. Last spring, two federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions. One court said the subsidies applied to Americans in all states; the other said they applied only to consumers in states that operated their own health care exchanges.

This newspaper understands some of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act and, in fact, questioned the programs cost as the bill originally moved through Congress. However, it is now law. Millions have based their insurance decisions on the program; a ruling would affect people of all political stripes in every House and Senate district. The well-being of those who enrolled should be protected.

Turners bill addresses only part of Texas broader health care challenge under the Affordable Care Act. Texas lawmakers also need to reform Medicaid eligibility so the state can draw extra federal dollars to cover the large percentage of uninsured low-income residents as a number of Texas business groups have urged. Unfortunately, in a letter to President Barack Obama, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Senate Republicans on Monday reiterated their opposition to expanding Medicaid while demanding that the federal government allow Texas to make sweeping changes in the Medicaid program. This appears to be a nonstarter.

Texas must begin to solve its myriad health care challenges. Turners bill is a pragmatic way to keep a looming problem from becoming a nightmare. It deserves bipartisan support.

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Editorial: If Texans' health care subsidies disappear, we need a plan