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Supporters of making Iowa the latest state to enact a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, insist it's really nothing to be alarmed about. No big deal. Or maybe it's a very big deal.
The bill, Senate File 436, would require courts in Iowa to apply the highest level of judicial review, also known as strict scrutiny, when weighing cases involving Iowans who break the law because of their sincerely held religious beliefs. The state would have to prove its law serves a 'compelling governmental interest” and is narrowly tailored to meet that objective.
Proponents at a subcommittee hearing this week argued the federal RFRA has been on the books since 1993, so no biggie. But Chuck Hurley of the Family Leader argued the bill would 'restore the beauty and power of the 1st Amendment.” So, biggie, maybe.
Few people who pursue a defense under RFRA win in court, supporters contended. But Brad Cranston, founder of Iowa Baptists for Biblical Values said the bill would be the first step to protect Iowans 'from the soft totalitarianism of the left.”
Backers said it would simply give Iowans their day in court. But Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, said this is about people who believe 'man can change the laws of nature,” with policies 'forced on people.” Guth also spoke of the need to 'protect the inner soul of man.”
But what do Republicans and other backers truly want? What do they want to do that they can't do now? No one said, specifically.
It's not tough to surmise. The spread of state-by-state RFRA bills has coincided with LGBTQ Americans fighting for and winning civil rights protections. RFRA supporters want permission to opt out of progress and discriminate against LGBTQ Iowans. They want to deny them services, public accommodations, housing, employment, etc., by asserting their religious beliefs.
Iowa's Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and has since 2007. These folks want a bypass around the law.
Yes, there is a federal RFRA, but its Iowa's state courts that settle questions of constitutional equity in our state. Iowans asserting their religious beliefs can already have their day in court. And it's the courts, not the Legislature, that should decide what level of judicial review these cases receive.
Once again, Republicans who fear they can't win in court want to put a thumb on the scale. Too bad we can't apply a strict scrutiny standard to some of the garbage bills moving this session.
But if RFRA dies, as it has in previous sessions, we can again thank the state's business community.
Joe Murphy of the Iowa Business Council testified that, given the state's paltry projected population growth, the last thing lawmakers should do is make the state less welcoming and inclusive.
'Our economic future depends on it,” Murphy said.
Similar messages were delivered by Wellmark, Principal Financial and the Technology Association of Iowa. They're among a long list of firms and economic development groups opposed to the bill.
Hurley accused business interests of 'bullying and intimidation.” But it's he and his allies who are working to make it OK to bully and intimidate LGBTQ Iowans. Stopping this bill would be a big deal.
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