A piece of legislation in Ohio
is causing some controversy as it aims to affect the practice of
religion. The bill’s proponents say it will reinforce the First
Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, whereas its detractors
are concerned that it will blur the line between church and
State Representatives Tim Derickson (R-Oxford) and Bill Patmon
(D-Cleveland) introduced the
Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) last Wednesday.
The bill would require that the state demonstrate “compelling
government interest” to create any laws, policies, or regulations
that place burdens on the exercise of religion.
announced at a press conference that “this legislation will
help reassert the foundation upon which this country was founded
and has grown and prospered on—freedom of religion and the practice
However, various groups are arguing about the legality of the
bill, and whether it would protect religion or push it on others.
At odds on the issues are the American Civil Liberties Union’s
communications coordinator, Nick Worner, and the Alliance Defending
Freedom’s legal counsel, Joseph LaRue. The Columbus
“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Whatever a
piece of state legislation does, it’s not going to trump the U.S.
Constitution,” Worner said. “Individual religious freedom is
extremely important, but it’s never been a free pass to impose your
religious beliefs on other people.”
LaRue, who helped draft the Ohio bill, agrees with the ACLU that
the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, but adds, “That’s
only part of the story.”
“The U.S. Constitution is a baseline,” he said. “States can go
above and beyond what the U.S. Constitution provides.”
“What we’ve seen in states without RFRA is an increasing and
creeping reduction in religious freedom,” LaRue said. “They are
taking away rights of individuals to live their lives in public
consistent with their faith.”
Another Dispatch article
quotes Patrick Elliott of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
He warns that “the wording is so broad that all aspects of state
enforcement, state statutes, and local ordinances would be
On the other hand, Patmon’s and Derickson’s bill finds
precedence in the federal
RFRA, which passed twenty years ago, and 17 similar state-based
pieces of legislation, none of which have resulted in the cataclysm
against which Elliot warns.
How exactly the bill will play out if passed is unknown.
Responding to a recent incident in which the ACLU persuaded an Ohio
public school to remove religious artwork, LaRue and Patmon – who
are on the same side of the debate over the Ohio Religious Freedom
Restoration Act – expressed contradictory opinions in the
Dispatch about how the legislation would affect such
cosponsors, nearly half of the state’s representatives have
expressed support for the bill. The vast majority of cosponsors are
from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/12/09/ohio-bill-sparks-debate-about-religious