UPDATE: The bill's sponsor has announced he will withdraw the bill!
By now you have no doubt heard about the so-called “religious freedom” bill passed in Indiana that could have allowed people to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate against others. Passage of the bill caused such a backlash that Indiana Gov. Pence was forced to backtrack and call for an amendment to fix the worst parts of the law. Since then, states including Georgia and Nevada have learned from Indiana’s mistakes and rejected similar Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs).
Unfortunately, one Maine lawmaker seems determined to go forward with a RFRA very similar to the Indiana law. While religious freedom is a fundamental right, enshrined in both the Maine and U.S. Constitutions, this bill goes far beyond those protections and could allow individuals to use their religion as a reason to discriminate against others or to ignore laws that they feel are at odds with their beliefs. (Update April 14: the bill, LD 1340, has been printed - which means we can expect a public hearing soon).
RFRAs typically allow anyone to challenge any state or local law that they decide they don’t want to follow. While the impact will vary from state to state, these bills could lead to a number of unintended consequences, including undermining public safety – for example, a RFRA law could lead a police officer to refuse to interact with certain members of the community, even while on duty. And by opening the door for individuals to claim their religion allows them to ignore certain laws, RFRA laws also muddy the legal landscape have already led to many costly lawsuits across the country.
In addition, as we are seeing in Indiana, RFRAs are bad for business - if Maine passes such a law, it could serve to drive companies and top talent away from a state that desperately needs both. It could also put a damper on the tourism industry as travelers seek out more welcoming destinations.
Stay tuned for updates on as this bad legislation moves forward, and join us in telling your legislators to reject LD 1340. Maine is a place that welcomes all people – let’s keep it that way.