Those horror stories about the religious freedom act? None of them are true.

Have you been hearing horror stories about the Michigan RFRA? None of them are true. Dan Calabrese of the Detroit News explains it all right here.

The Detroit News

December 15th 2014

Dan Calabrese

How gullible are you, really?

If you don’t want to support a bill that protects the rights of religious people not to be forced into situations that violate their faith — particularly as it pertains to matters concerning gay marriage — I disagree with you, but hey,vive la difference!

But if you oppose the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Michigan because of what you’ve read on social media, which of course echoes what those on the political left are saying, then you owe it to yourself to find out what the bill actually says and does.

Because it doesn’t do any of the nonsense these people are claiming. Most of them know it, too. And they’re lying to you.

The impetus of the bill, contrary to what you’ve heard, is not to give anyone a “license to discriminate” against gays or anyone else. It is rather to prevent people from being forced to participate in things that are contrary to their faith. We’ve already seen situations in various parts of the country where Christians faced legal sanction because:

  • They owned a wedding chapel and declined to host a gay wedding.
  • They owned a bakery and declined the business of baking a cake for a gay wedding.
  • They owned a florist and chose not to do the floral arrangements for a gay wedding.
  • They had a photography business and chose not to photograph a gay wedding.

Some of these people lost their businesses entirely because they faced a choice between that and acting in violation with their faith. It is these kinds of situations that the bill is designed to address. But to hear from the bill’s hysterical (or dishonest) critics, you’d think the bill would:

  • Allow an EMT to refuse to treat a patient because he is gay.
  • Refuse to seat gay people in restaurants.
  • Deny a gay person a driver’s license (assuming you get a virulently anti-gay Secretary of State employee, you understand).
  • Deny a gay person housing if the landlord doesn’t like gay people.

The bill doesn’t say or do any of this, and if you think it does because you believe what you see on social media, you are an utter fool.

There are two reasons this is true. One is the wording of the bill itself. The other is the history of court rulings stemming from a 20-year-old federal law with virtually the exact same language — one that was passed in 1993 by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton. The bill requires that anyone seeking protection under the law be able to show that, without said protection, they would be forced to do something that violates a very specific tenet of a recognized religion.

For instance: The state is trying to force me to participate in a gay wedding and my faith does not allow for gay marriage. All I want to do is stay home.

What you can’t do is use the law to justify the withholding of service to someone just because they are gay, especially when the service in question has nothing to do with the person being gay. You can’t justify denying a gay person lunch because a) even for those who regard homosexuality as a sin, there’s no recognized faith system that requires people engaged in sin to be denied food; and b) anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws already cover this question, the RFRA bill that passed the House says nothing that contradicts or attempts to circumvent those laws.

And please: Someone at the Secretary of State office refusing you a driver’s license because you’re gay? Anyone who tried that would be fired so fast, even AFSCME probably wouldn’t defend them. And that’s saying something.

The EMT example is the most idiotic of all. For one thing, there is a very specific federal law — the Emergency Medical Treatment And Labor Act of 1986 — that requires EMTs to provide emergency assistance to anyone who has the need, even if they can’t pay. Again, the RFRA contains nothing that seeks to circumvent that. (And if it did, it would be struck down by the first court that had the chance, and properly so.)

The bill also does not open the door for people to “cry religion” in obviously bogus ways. You can’t invent a religion no one has ever heard of and claim it requires something of you that’s contrary to the law. The courts have consistently ruled this in enforcing the federal RFRA, and the Michigan version is designed to function in the same way.

All this bill is designed to do is protect people who don’t want to be forced to take part in something that is anathema to their faith. The practical effect would be, to use one example, that a gay couple might have to search around a little bit to find a bakery or a photographer willing to take part in their wedding. (Then again, Michigan doesn’t even have gay marriage at the moment so we’re talking about a hypothetical anyway.) What they wouldn’t be able to do is, upon having been turned down by a such a service provider, take some sort of legal action against that person. They would just have to find someone else.

If the opponents of this bill really thought it was so horrible, they would be making arguments as to why these situations, the ones the bill actually deals with, are not deserving of protection. But I suspect they know that if the public really understood what the bill is designed to do, they would support it overwhelmingly. It basically says to gays: You can do what you want, but you can’t force me to participate in it. And because the bill’s opponents know this would be the public’s position, they lie about it and claim it would do terrible things it will not do.

Look, if this bill really gave EMTs a license to deny emergency services to a person because they were gay, or any of the other stuff being claimed, I would oppose it. But it doesn’t. So I don’t.

Stop believing everything you read. Oh, and you might want to reconsider your trust of the people who are telling you these lies.

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