The slumbering giant that was the Idaho Legislature--snoring through what was quickly becoming an instantly forgettable 2014 session--awoke rather crankily from its winter nap Feb. 3 and Feb. 5, to knock scores of members of faith, human rights and LGBT communities back onto their collective heels. First, lawmakers had nearly four dozen people arrested Feb. 3 at the Idaho Statehouse after the protesters returned to beg legislators to add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's Human Rights Act. Less than 48 hours later, many of those same advocates returned to the Capitol, this time joined by hundreds of other citizens, to protest House Bills 426 and 427--deemed "religious freedom" bills--each sponsored by Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker. As written, the measures extend special protections to those who use their faith as a reason to deny service or protection to someone whose lifestyle or beliefs are not in line with their own. After more than three hours of testimony, with hundreds in attendance at a Feb. 5 State Affairs Committee hearing, Luker's legislation was sent to "general orders" to receive some wordsmithing and, ultimately, return to the committee.
Luker made a point of sharing with Boise Weekly some of the reasoning behind his proposals, while members of human rights task forces in Bonner and Kootenai counties also shared with BW their own reasons for vehemently opposing both measures. We've edited both for space, but thought it would be appropriate to shed light on both sides of this combustible debate, using their own words:
The following was part of a communication sent to Boise Weekly by Boise Republican House Rep. Lynn Luker.
I do not have an issue with the right of the LGBT community to choose how, with whom and where they choose to live. In fact, despite much discussion in the press and social media to the contrary, the bills that I have sponsored are not directed at that community. They are based upon concern over the growing interference by government mandate in the lives of all people, but particularly those who have religious convictions that are being burdened or ignored by government. The very first protected right in the Constitution under the First Amendment concerns protection of the free exercise of religion.
Catholic Social Services has placed thousands and thousands of children by adoption in homes, but they believe children should have a mother and a father, and that such is ordained by God. Should they be required to place children with same-gender couples when it violates the very basic beliefs in family that is part of the religious tenets of their faith? Yet it is happening.
Similarly as you may be aware, a photographer in New Mexico who has a similar belief that same-gender marriage is against God's law was asked to photograph a same-sex wedding. The photographer had done portrait work for gay and lesbian clients, but because of her religious objection to same-gender marriage, she declined. We hear much of the need to be tolerant. Was the same-sex couple understanding and tolerant? No. They sued the photographer, won in court, leaving the photographer to pay court costs, attorney fees and a $6,500 fine. Tolerance would dictate that the couple would have said, "Thank you for telling us, we respect your views even though we do not share them, and we will find another photographer."
This has happened in several states with bakers, florists and others providing wedding services. I would point out that the reason the photographer, and the bakers in Colorado and Oregon and the florist in Washington were placed in that position is because those states had "added the words" to their human rights act.
So what does the bill do? It says that people who are required to be licensed by the government to pursue their profession, whether it is a doctor, a plumber, a barber, cannot lose their license because they acted or refused to act based upon a sincerely held religious belief. Those persons are in a particularly vulnerable position because government controls the licensing.
I have a professional friend who was asked by a same-sex couple to perform a service. They politely asked if he had any religious objections, and he said frankly that he did. They said, "We understand and will find somebody else." He provided them a referral and said thank you for asking. What a wonderful example on both sides. That is the way it should be. However, government has gone so far that it is forcing these conflicts and controversies, and people of faith have finally decided to say we have to do something to protect ourselves from this assault upon our rights, which after all are protected in the very first amendment to the Constitution. Despite the headlines, sound bites and twitter posts that the bill is designed to deny services to gays, it is designed to recognize that people of faith should not be compelled by government to violate basic tenets of their faith.
The following was part of a communication sent to Boise Weekly from representatives of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
We fully support the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions' guarantee of religious freedom for one to freely believe and worship as he or she chooses. But we oppose any law that permits one's use of his or her religious beliefs in the public arena to harm or discriminate against persons that happen to hold different beliefs.
HB 426 and HB 427 provide sweeping broad powers for one to use his or her religious views to create havoc for Idaho's business community and invite widespread discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
The poorly written bills could create a significant increase in litigation for Idaho businesses regarding contracts, signing of legal documents, enforcing professional licensing standards and other legal issues when one of the parties objects based on religious grounds. We suggest this constant threat of litigation could possibly cause an exit from Idaho by some businesses and certainly discourage others from moving to Idaho.
HB 426 could result in serious consequences to the health and safety of Idahoans. If some licensed professionals acted according to their sincerely held religious beliefs, a licensing board could not reprimand or discipline a professional that caused harm to the patient or client. What if a physician, based on religious grounds, refused to administer a blood transfusion to a patient? What if a teacher guided by a religious conviction ignored negative comments directed at a gay student?
HB 427 would open the door to widespread practices of discrimination in Idaho. The owners of a housing complex, a restaurant/hotel or employer could use his or her religious beliefs to adopt a policy of discrimination against members of the LGBT community, thus seriously weakening enforcement of the anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities. HB 247 could also invite discrimination against women. For example, if an orthodox religious male leader, as an employer, ordered his female employee(s) to wear a certain headdress and she refused, he could fire her under HB 427.
We fear that HB 427 would unintentionally open the door to such hate groups as the Aryan Nations' Church of Jesus Christ Christian or the religious dogma of the Ku Klux Klan to adversely impact the lives of people these hate groups target.
The late Richard Butler preached a religious dogma that the Jewish race was the result of a sexual union between Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Christian Identity Theology) to justify his hatred of Jews. We have for over 30 years worked with leaders of many faiths in condemning these doctrines. Under HB 427, who will determine what is a legitimate religion?
The good people of Idaho do not deserve an episode of an unfair stain on our state's reputation. The businesses of Idaho should not be subjected to a flood of costly litigation.
If these bills become law, the state of Idaho will be embroiled in years of litigation as to the constitutionality of the broad sweep of the legislation. Idaho should not have to spend millions of dollars defending this flawed legislation.
Idaho should be guaranteeing full equality for all Idahoans rather than expanding discrimination.
--Brenda Hammond, Bonner County Human Rights Task Force; and Christie Wood, Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations