Earlier this week, both the Maine State Senate and House voted down LD 1428, a bill that would have authorized discrimination in the name of religion. The so-called "religious freedom" bill actually had little to do with religious freedom, which the ACLU of Maine has a long (and successful) history of defending, but would have created a gaping exemption to the Maine Human Rights Act. We testified against the bill last month, along side our partners in the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, the LGBT Coalition, the Coalition for Maine Women, the Choice Coalition, and many more. You can read our testimony here.
We are devoted to the protection of the free exercise of religion, but LD 1428 went too far, creating many new problems while solving none. Here in Maine, the free exercise of religion is robustly protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Maine Constitution, the Maine Human Rights Act, and over a dozen state statutes. LD 1428 would have gone much further, elevating religious law over all other forms of law. Under the bill, every law and government policy is suspect, and if any religious person or group objects to that law or policy, the government would have been required to justify it under the most searching scrutiny. Traditionally reserved for the most invidious types discrimination, the “strict scrutiny” standard contained in this bill would even apply to facially neutral laws that have only incidental burdens on religion. By requiring the government to justify every law that indirectly burdens religion, LD 1428 elevates religious conviction above all other protected classes.
By design, LD 1428 would have allowed individuals and businesses to duck compliance with laws that protect Mainers from discrimination. Similar bills have cropped up around the country in response to marriage equality and laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination. Just this week, both Arizona and Kansas considered bills similar to LD 1428, and unfortunately, those bills are close to passing.
Thankfully, here in Maine, the majority of our legislators are committed to upholding the Maine Human Rights Act and protecting all Mainers from discrimination. We are grateful to the 19 senators and 89 representatives who stood up for all of our rights this week!