Religious protections for Michigan residents heads to the state Senate

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |

LANSING, Mich. (Christian Examiner) -- Michigan's religiously devout could find additional legal protections in the month's ahead if a House-approved Religious Freedom Restoration Act passes the Michigan Senate.

The legislation grants the right to assert religious beliefs as a legal defense and passed along party lines last week with a GOP-dominated House vote of 59-50.

The USA Today reported Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, sponsored the bill and said the measure is intended to protect an individual's beliefs and practice of religion.

Bolger citied examples of a cake vendor whose religious belief conflicts with providing services for a same-sex wedding and a Jewish mother whose religion objects to performing an autopsy on a loved one that died in a car crash.

"This is not a license to discriminate," Bolger said. "People simply want their government to allow them to practice their faith in peace."

Those against House Bill 5958 claim the legislation could backfire and create opportunity for discrimination if service providers choose to discriminate against people who don't adhere to their religious beliefs.

The Detroit News reported Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, cited a scenario in which a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription for an individual because of their differing faith perspectives. Barnett and other Democrats contend the bill also conflicts with Michigan's anti-discrimination law.

"This bill moves us in a new and unchartered directions," Barnett said. "It requires me and others to practice the faith of our employers, grocers and pharmacists."

But Bolger maintains his bill provides the same religious liberties that were afforded to incarcerated inmates in 2000.

"I am asking you today to give Michigan's law abiding citizens the same protections as Michigan's incarcerated felons have," Bolger said before the vote.

Benton Harbor Michigan's WSJM-FM reported Bolger modeled his bill after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton which the U.S. Supreme Court later found did not apply to state-level statutes.

Another supporter of the bill and constitutional law expert William Wagner told the Detroit Free Press that Barnett's and other Democrats concerns are invalid.

"This is about asserting a religious belief against a government action," he said, not between individuals. "The question is, are we still going to be tolerant of religious communities."