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Religious freedom and Michigan

Mar 31, 2015

When Indiana passed its controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” last week, one of my more irreverent friends asked me, “Do you think the Taliban will do the same?”

He meant the Michigan Legislature. Equating our lawmakers with the Taliban sounds pretty harsh, but that would be somewhat justified if they are pigheaded enough to pass a bill similar to Indiana.

The Taliban are a group of ideological and religious fanatics who, when they were in power, cared little for what their people thought.

And they didn’t care at all that their policies wrecked their economy and made them a pariah among nations. Well, if our legislature passes any of the three so-called “religious freedom” bills before them, they will have helped damage our economy.

Conventions are pulling out of Indiana by the boatload. Companies are saying they won’t locate or expand there. Yes, if Michigan likes being in a permanent recession, passing a similar law would be a great idea.

What this is really about has nothing to do with religious freedom. Calling these bills “religious freedom” acts is terminology straight out George Orwell. 

Today, I could decide to worship Ishtar, Satan or the AuSable River, and nobody would do anything to stop me, and few would care, as long as I didn’t engage in human sacrifice.

Our religious freedom is as complete as it can be. The bill passed in Indiana and the ones pending in Michigan really are legalized discrimination acts. They want to give people the right to discriminate against certain classes of people, primarily gays.

The one that is furthest along in our state is a package of bills that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to keep their state funding even if they refuse to allow people to adopt children because they think the adopters lifestyles violate their religious beliefs.

We are talking, of course, primarily about same-sex couples. The House has passed this bill, and it is pending in the Senate. There’s also a bill in the house that would allow hospitals and medical professionals to refuse services that allegedly violate their religious beliefs.

Finally, there’s the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself, which would protect businesses from having to do things like sell flowers to a same-sex couple if the business owners claimed that doing so violated their so-called religious beliefs.

Well, I am fairly well acquainted with most of the world’s religious scriptures, and don’t recall anything in them that says “Thou shalt not sell a gay person a bunny cake.”

Nor does it say you can refuse an unbeliever medical treatment.

Our state’s business leaders think this would be a financial disaster. And whatever your beliefs, you might want to ask yourself – is this what our lawmakers are supposed to be doing?

These are the guys who refused to fix the roads and instead passed the buck and the bill for a special election to us. We’ve got education problems, infrastructure issues, and a prison system badly in need of reform.

It would be nice if our lawmakers felt some pressure to do the jobs we elected them to do. Or if, at least, they were required to take some political version of the Hippocratic Oath.

The one that begins, “First, do no harm.”

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.