ACLU of Ohio opposes legislation that Invites the use of religious exemptions to ignore the rule of law
January 17, 2014: The ACLU of Ohio has announced its opposition to HB 376, a bill that claims to protect individual religious freedom, but instead encourages people to use religion as a justification for ignoring local ordinances, employment rules, and criminal law.
“We are a nation governed by laws,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “This legislation emboldens people to turn their back on those laws simply by claiming a religious exemption.”
“Individual religious freedom is critically important,” Link added. “That is why the ACLU has fought so hard for so many years to defend it. But religious freedom is not a free pass to ignore the law or strip away the safety and civil rights of others.”
Supporters of H.B. 376 have claimed that it is simply another state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. However, Ohio’s legislation is the most extreme in the nation and goes further than any other state RFRA.
If passed, the Ohio RFRA could be invoked to undermine local LGBT anti-discrimination laws, to force public schools and universities to modify their academic requirements to suit individual religious ideologies, or simply to ignore state and local laws. Other states with RFRA legislation have already seen individuals and groups using religious freedom as justification for all sorts of bad behavior, some of it criminal.
“Whether legislators intended for these kinds of negative consequences or simply failed to anticipate them, they should abandon this bad legislation,” said Link.