The protection of religious freedom should never provide a privilege for my rights to place a barrier in front of you and your rights, or cause you harm.
Religious freedom is one of our country’s most fundamental rights. Religious freedom is also already protected through the First Amendment as well as our state’s constitution. Also important is the rule of law.
Religious exemptions (commonly referred to as RFRA) has been passed by Iowa Senate Republicans. There are major concerns with the legislation, even among some Republicans.
RFRA would allow people to pick and choose which laws they follow and which they choose to skirt around under the guise of religious freedom. RFRA would also codify discrimination into Iowa law.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as originally passed by Congress in 1993 with bipartisan support, was designed to protect the people from the government imposing its will on an individual’s religious freedom without a compelling reason. An example often given is the government infringing on the right to perform some type of religious worship, unless there is an important government interest, like public safety.
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RFRA has been twisted over the last two decades so that the infringement of rights is one person to another. Some believe religious freedom is at the top of an imaginary Pyramid of Rights, enshrining its place over all other rights. RFRA was never intended to place one person’s religious freedom above the rights of another person, or to impose one person’s religious beliefs on another — as has happened in states across the country.
The protection of religious freedom should never provide a privilege for my rights to place a barrier in front of you and your rights, or cause you harm. My rights end at the tip of my nose, as has often been said.
RFRA laws in other states are thinly veiled efforts to allow business owners, employers, landlords, and others to discriminate against people who are LGBTQ. They have also been used to hinder access to contraceptive care and to justify child abuse and domestic violence. All in the name of religious freedom.
Our state is at a crossroads. Do we believe that all people are equal, or not? Do we believe that all Iowans are worthy, or do we think some people deserve a second-class citizenship?
Our nation’s history is littered with examples of people’s rights being erased because of religious beliefs and religious freedom. Slavery was justified by religious beliefs, as were Jim Crow laws. Discrimination against Jews and Muslims have been justified time and again by those in the religious majority. Immigrants from an array of countries have faced discrimination couched in religious arguments.
Religious freedom is a bedrock of our nation, but so is equality. There is a responsibility and accountability of our government and lawmakers to ensure equality and fairness for all, guarding against the misuse of any “right” to harm others.
Religious freedom is a sacred right we all cherish, but it is not without limits. RFRA was passed by Republicans in the Iowa Senate. House Republicans in the House should listen to the still small voice informing their hearts and minds and bury the legislation in a drawer.
It’s quite simple. No person should be allowed to use their faith to impose their beliefs on another person and take away another person’s rights.
All Iowans should have equal access to live, work, shop, and dine and should not face legalized discrimination. The religious freedom of some should not be allowed to create a second-class citizenship for others.
Lawmakers should reject an agenda shrouded with discrimination and justified by a distorted notion of religious freedom. Lawmakers should work diligently to protect all civil rights and ensure all people are treated equally.
Connie Ryan is executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.