Would Religious Freedom Bill In Ohio Be Like Arizona’s?

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Arizona’s Governor is expected to veto a bill in that state that could give businesses the right to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds. There’s a bill addressing religious freedom that’s been introduced in the Ohio House. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the sponsor of that bill says it won’t allow discrimination but civil rights advocates are not so sure.

In the past few days, a pizza shop owner in Arizona put up a sign denying service to Republican lawmakers who passed the contentious bill in that state’s legislature. Gay rights advocates say it would allow businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation under the guise of exercising their religious beliefs. There’s also a religious freedom bill being considered here in the Ohio legislature. Democratic State Representative Bill Patmon is one of its sponsors. But he says it’s not like the Arizona legislation.

"Our bill and the intention of our bill is to do a reflection of the federal law that’s in place now and that governs federal actions – to do that in the case of the state. Clearly, we were not anticipating Arizona and people trying to say everything that looks like that is like it but it is not," Patmon said.

Patmon says the bill under consideration in the Ohio House is written to protect religious freedom of Ohioans.

"It will protect you if you want to exercise your faith at work, if you want to pray, if you want to wear a cross, if you want to exhibit something at your school that doesn’t interfere with government interest. We would apply the strict scrutiny test to it and say you can’t do it because it is not in our interest to ban people from wearing yamikas or any of that," Patmon said.

"I think it opens the exact same doors that the Arizona bill does," Nick Warner, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said. He says the fact is that Ohio’s bill is full of unintended consequences.

"And it’s not just Arizona either. We’ve got Kansas and Mississippi and a number of other states that are dealing with the unintended consequences of this," Worner said. "I say unintended because it may very well be true that the sponsors didn’t have these unintended consequences in mind but the fact of the matter is it allows for it. If they had other things in mind, like religious garb, clothing and prayer, they already have the first amendment, not to mention us, who have already defended people in situations like that and have already prevailed in court. The issue is the unintended consequences – the license to discriminate that this creates. Ohio’s religious freedom bill is in the beginning stages of the legislative process. It has about 3 dozen co-sponsors.