BOISE – Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker’s controversial bill regarding religious protections and service denial came up for hearing before the House State Affairs Committee Tuesday at the Capitol.
From his point of view, the bill would give solace to those who feel their expression of religion is curtailed. From the majority of public testimonies given, many believe the bill is an attack on equal and civil rights in Idaho.
The seats in the committee hearing room were filled, along with two overflow rooms and an auditorium equipped with audio streaming of the hearing to accommodate the large audience.
Luker introduced one of the two bills he is sponsoring, HB 427, at 9 a.m. and said it is a small solution to a defect in the state’s religious restoration act. His other bill, HB 426, also received discussion and protects professional licensure in cases of service-denial when “sincere religious beliefs” are cited.
The hearing lasted nearly three and a half hours. Following the conclusion of the testimonies, the committee voted 11-5 to send the bill to general orders to include small edits. Luker said he didn’t intend for the bill to be interpreted as a “sword to discriminate,” and wants to add the word “defensively” to change the overall connotation of the bill. He said he wants the bill to be used defensively, rather than to discriminate.
Luker said HB 427 serves as a way for religious individuals to live according to their faith, rather than how the government demands.
“This bill simply updates our existing law in two respects,” Luker said.
He said the bill would make the term “exercise of religion” consistent throughout the bill, and add language that would make it possible for an individual to be sued if that person is relying on the actions of the government to demand equal treatment. Luker said people are using the government to defend themselves against other people’s religious beliefs, something he said is wrong.
“Some of these issues do intersect with some issues about which the LGBT community is concerned, but the concerns of the bill are much broader,” Luker said. “The bill is not designed to invite targeted discrimination of or denial of services to LGBTs, or any other group.”
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, said Idaho already has efficient laws that reduce discrimination on basis of sex, race and disability. She said this bill could create opportunity for religious extremists to gain strength with the ability to cite religion as a defense. She mentioned white supremacist groups historically based in Idaho and was promptly given the gavel by the committee chairman, Rep. Thomas F. Loertscher, R-Iona.
Luker said the bill wouldn’t completely guard against personal religion-based decisions. He said the bill would demand the government begin a “balancing test” to prevent against unintended consequences.
More questions concerning who exactly would be held as paramount when two individuals cite religious beliefs against one another came from the committee. Luker responded that the government action against the individuals is the focus of the legislation.
Linda Crozier, Idaho native and mother, said the HB 427 is damaging to the state of Idaho and the country.
“I have a hard time understanding why you’re even getting this bill airtime – it doesn’t deserve your time and attention,” Crozier said. “You have allowed this ludicrous bill to come to the floor even when you have denied the same for the ‘Add the Words’ bill for years.”
Crozier said she thinks the bill is offensive and could spark increased discrimination on basis of race and gender, in addition to sexual identity.
“This bill has the potential to take us back to dark times in our country and our state’s history,” Crozier said.
“Add the Words” organizer and activist Mistie Tolman was third on the list to testify to the committee against the bill. She said it is imperative to extend the Idaho Human Rights act to include all Idahoans to benefit the next generation and protect those often persecuted today.
“I asked you this question a year ago, and I ask you again — to ask yourself if you believe if gay and transgendered people are second-class citizens,” Tolman said.
Area students also came to the podium to testify against the bill. Boise High School junior Kathleen Durken said she testified to represent her generation — the next generation of voters, decision makers and citizens of the United States.
“I don’t believe this is necessary,” Durken said. “But once a person and their religious beliefs cause harm to others and dehumanize them, we need to draw a line. Maybe I’m just a naïve teenager, but I don’t believe this is what we should be doing in Idaho.”
Executive Director Julie Lynde and another member of the board of directors of Cornerstone Family Council gave the only testimonies in support of the bill. Lynde said the bill deserves support because it will actively support those who also receive continual discrimination — individuals of faith.
“The freedom (of religion) upon within all other freedoms rest,” Lynde said. “Is a short, (this bill) is a necessary, technical update to Idaho’s (laws) and close a loophole to protect any Idahoan’s citing freedom of religion.”
Maryanne Jordan, Boise City councilwoman said in her testimony that according to a city economic study there is a rise in young adults migrating out of Idaho for fear of living and working in an environment that promotes discrimination.
“Discrimination is bad for business,” Jordan said. “The city of Boise requests that you defeat this bill.”
Jordan reminded committee members that Boise passed a city anti-discrimination bill in 2012 focusing on the equal treatment of LGBT individuals in education, housing and employment.
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho Brian Thom spoke on behalf of 10 other Idaho religious leaders. He said the bill in no way supports what he calls true expression of religious beliefs.
“This bill would promote a distortion of true religious freedom,” Thom said. “This would give the idea that their interpretation of God is truer than anyone else’s. We’re not called upon to force (our faith) upon someone else.”
Chloe Rambo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CRchloerambo