Updated Thu, Feb 27, 2014 3:43 pm
A controversial so called “religious freedom” bill in the Ohio legislature is being pulled. The legislation, that is similar to the bill that recently passed in Arizona, has been widely criticized for opening the door to discrimination against LGBT people. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on why the Ohio legislation is dead for now.
One of the sponsors of the religious freedom bill being considered in the Ohio legislature, Democratic Representative Bill Patmon, says the plan is dead.
"We are pulling the entire bill, the entire bill, not just support or anything, but the bill is being pulled off the legislative agenda by my request," Patmon said. "There is too much misunderstanding and misinterpretation in this particular case and when you find that, then you have to maybe go back to the drawing board because we are not Arizona nor were we ever intended to be or to have a bill that is reflective of what they are doing.
Patmon says he was pushing the bill because he wanted to make sure there were protections for people who wear a cross necklace, a yarmulke or some other religious symbol in their workplaces. But critics of this bill said it could open the door to widespread discrimination of gay Ohioans. Patmon says the language in this bill was not clear enough.
"There are different interpretations of it," Patmon said. "That’s a concern for me. I don’t want different interpretations whether it is the ACLU or someone else. There should be only one. And that is to make sure people have religious freedom."
Patmon’s co-sponsor on this legislation, Republican Tim Derickson, is willing to pull the bill. Spencer Gross is Derickson’s legislative aide.
"It was a joint decision to definitely suspend the bill for now," Gross said.
Ingles: "Was his reasoning the same as Representative Patmon’s?"
"Yea, through the legislative process it kind of became clear that there were some unintentional consequences that could result from the bill’s implementation," Gross said. "We wanted this to be something that would protect Ohioans of all faiths and their religious liberties and it wasn’t our intent to make this a discrimination bill."
The sponsors of the Ohio bill being pulled say they would like to pursue a religious freedom bill in the future….but for now, the legislation is dead. That’s welcome news as far as Ian James is concerned. James, a leader with the gay rights group, FreedomOhio, says the language in the Ohio bill was very close to the language in the Arizona legislation.
James says he thinks sponsors of this bill didn’t realize it could have unintended consequences. And James does not want sponsors to come back with another similar bill in the future. There’s a famous quote by folk singer Bob Dylan that says “money doesn’t talk, it swears.” James says if lawmakers come back with another bill like this in the future, businesses will swear off putting dollars into Ohio’s economy.
"Companies will come out to strong opposition to this," James said. "I’m sure, because they see this is not the way for Ohio to go forward. It’s a bad bill. It’s dangerous."
For his part, Representative Patmon, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, says he will not support any legislation that would discriminate.
"Given who I am, there’s no way I could be in favor of discrimination," Patmon said.