Ohio: Urge Your State Rep to Reject Bill That Makes Religion an Excuse to Break the Law

December 17, 2013

The Ohio House of Representatives may soon vote on a bill that would place religious beliefs and practices above the law — and we need your help to stop them.

The rights to believe and worship as one wishes are, and always have been, strongly protected in Ohio by both the Ohio Constitution and the United States Constitution. But a new proposal, Ohio House Bill 376, called the “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” uses deliberately vague and broad wording to allow religious institutions and believers to avoid complying with general laws simply by claiming it “burdens” their religion in some way.

Bill 376 proposes that “state action ... shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” — unless the government can demonstrate it has a compelling interest to do so and its means are the least restrictive available.

The bill’s sponsors, Reps. Timothy Derickson (R-Oxford) and Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland), claim the bill is needed to protect the right to freedom of religion in Ohio. However, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) believes this is nothing more than an attempt to privilege religion in the state.

For example, under this bill:

  • Child day care providers and parents could make decisions regarding their children’s health according to their own conceptions of “religious faith,” instead of accepted standards of safety and public health;
  • Sectarian religious symbols could be installed on school premises;
  • School officials could be prevented from protecting students against bullying if the bully based their abuse of students on religious grounds;
  • Religious organizations receiving taxpayer dollars for social services could discriminate in hiring and providing benefits;
  • And religious employees could claim all manner of exemptions from certain workplace rules, and religious employers could terminate workers who do not fully comply with their particular dogma.

CFI has always defended freedom of religion for all, and will continue to do so. But this bill does not aim to protect this freedom; it aims to place religion on a pedestal, where it can be used as an excuse to disobey laws that everyone else must follow. Current law already protects religious belief and expression. This law seeks to go beyond protection, and grant religious belief special rights, which will infringe on the rights of others. As a result, the equal rights of all Ohio citizens, religious and secular, would be put at risk.

This proposal is not just unnecessary — it’s dangerous. We urge you to contact your state representative now and tell them to oppose this measure!


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