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Fact Checker: Does religious freedom bill shield businesses from same-sex marriage rules?

'I think your average person across America would agree that churches shouldn't have to violate their own principles.'

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By Brian Morelli, The Gazette

Introduction

“Once again, just churches. I can’t say that enough. That’s what the bill is about, just churches ... I think your average person across America would agree that churches shouldn’t have to violate their own principles.” Religious freedom legislation is aimed at preventing “not a business, a church” from losing its tax-exempt status for refusing to officiate weddings with same-sex couples.

Source of claim: U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, a first-term Republican congressman from Dubuque, as quoted in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Analysis

Blum was referring to the First Amendment Defense Act, which is a bill he co-sponsored with 145 other lawmakers as the Supreme Court was legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.

In essence, the bill prevents the government from penalizing a “person” for acting true to their religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, on June 17, and referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Supreme Court ruled June 26, but the outcome had been anticipated.

The official bill language states it “prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The bill defines “person” as “including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or non-profit status,” according to a summary of the bill.

Blum spokesman Keegan Conway said the congressman stands by his statements.

“The congressman would never support anything that allows businesses to discriminate against anyone,” Conway said. “The clear intent of the legislation is to protect religious organizations like churches from discrimination ... He stands by his statement that the legislation is not intended to impact businesses.”

Conway cited quotes from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., which Conway said articulate how acting in opposition to same-sex marriage could put churches at risk of losing tax-exempt status, and how the bill’s intent is to protect “churches, charities or private schools.”

Conway said the author of the bill, Labrador, is considering changing the wording “to clarify that businesses would not be included.”

Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt put it bluntly.

The bill as written would allow people in any occupation, such as a photographer, wedding planner or baker, to refuse services for same-sex marriages, he said.

Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political science professor, had a similar interpretation. Justices will look to the language of a bill before trying to decipher intent, he said.

“That one person’s statement doesn’t appear to be supported by what is here, even though that may be what they are trying to get at,” Hagle said.

Conclusion

Blum’s spokesman explained need and intent, but that doesn’t trump what the bill clearly states: protection for corporations and “for profit” entities, which include businesses.

If the bill is redrafted, Blum may wind up being correct, but at this point, he is not. The language of the bill is what counts.

Fact Checker scores this an F.

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by Iowa political candidates/office holders and by national candidates/office holders about Iowa. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs fact checking, email us at factchecker@sourcemedia.net.

l This Fact Checker was researched and reported by Brian Morelli. Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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