Republican Sen. Dennis Guth helped usher Senate File 240 through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The bill would provide a court apply the compelling interest test set forth in Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder. State action cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the law of general applicability is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
It is a version of a religious freedom and restoration act. And Guth says recent history suggests it is needed in Iowa.
“What we have seen across the nation and in the state of Iowa is a methodical and deliberate attack on religious freedom,” he said. “In the state of Iowa, an Iowa State University professor was blackballed because he had written an article on Intelligent Design. The University of Iowa discriminated against Business Leaders of Christ. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission shut down Dick and Betty Odgaard’s business when they refused to celebrate same-sex marriage.”
The same bill was signed into law by Democrat president Bill Clinton. It passed Congress without one dissenting vote in 1993 and only had three dissenting votes in the United States Senate.
“(Clinton) said it’s important that we sign this kind of a bill not so that we can agree but so that we can argue,” Guth said. “Truth can be found when there is open discussion.”
Guth wrote the bill with the help of Democrat Attorney General, Tom Miller. Guth said Miller told him RFRA does not discriminate.
“It’s intended to bring Iowa in line for federal standards for the protection of free exercise of religion guaranteed in the United States Constitution,” Guth said.
An amendment to the bill removing exceptions for the Department of Corrections passed.
Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg took his time in attacking the legislation. He went over opinions Scalia had offered relating to religious liberty.
Polygamy, child labor, military selective service, peyote — RFRA would open the door to issues with all of it, Hogg said.
“If you’re voting for this bill, you’re voting to give polygamists an argument that they don’t have to comply with the state’s polygamy law,” Hogg said. “If you vote for this bill, you’re voting for people to say they can violate child labor laws because that’s what their sincerely held religious belief compels them to do.”
The rationale of the bill is to protect those who Hogg said want to discriminate against homosexuals.
“It is motivated by a desire to discriminate against people who happen to be gay and lesbian and that’s wrong,” Hogg said. “That’s the No. 1 reason to vote no. The second reason it’s bad — I’ve never seen a bill where the business community has been as clear and as united in saying we do not want this bill.”
Democrat Sen. Herman Quirmbach also spoke against the bill. He and Guth went back and forth about why businesses would oppose the legislation.
Principal Financial, Guth said, wanted all of its employees to feel welcome at work. Guth said he talked with employees and past employees of Principal who said they were not comfortable because of a very small, but very vocal group who they felt they couldn’t say anything about or they’d risk losing their job or being required to attend sensitivity training.
“They were uncomfortable because they were not able to speak up about their own beliefs,” Guth said. “Especially to speak against some of the liberal ideas.”
Quirmbach praised Principal for following state law. He talked about the potential for negative impact to the state’s economy and business climate should the bill become law.
Democrat Sen. Jackie Smith asked how such legislation would impact other proposed legislation like over-the-counter birth control. Would a pharmacist be able to deny dispensing birth control citing their religious beliefs, she wondered.
Guth said while threats of economic consequence are obvious, facts don’t back up those fears.
“Not one of the 21 states with a RFRA has shown a negative economic impact the year after they passed it,” Guth said. “Those who threaten this sort of thing are the ones that are promoting a special interest agenda.”
Those threatening the state’s economy over RFRA should focus on persuasion, Guth said.
“Persuasion is more effective than coercion when it comes to building a healthy society,” he said. “What we’re seeing at the current time is coercion. People are trying to weaponize the government in order to influence other peoples’ thoughts about religion.”
Religious liberty is what America is all about — and why it was founded in the first place.
“We have an opportunity here today to stand with our Founding Fathers in protecting religious freedom,” Guth said. “They chose to risk their lives, their families and their fortunes for freedom. They escaped from Europe mainly because of religious persecution. It is because of this freedom that many come here to America still today from all over the world — not only to realize their dreams, but to live out the convictions of their heart.”
Now is the time for this generation to take a stand for freedom, Guth said.
The bill passed 7-4 with Democrats Nate Boulton, Hogg, Quirmbach and Smith voting against it.