Religious Exemption Bills: Real Consequences for All Americans

An Overview of RFRAs, Religious Exemptions, "License to Discriminate" Bills and More

What do these laws actually do?

The freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights. It’s enshrined in our Constitution and reflected in laws across the land – and it’s not up for debate. In fact, it’s one of the many freedoms that allow each and every American to live their lives to the fullest and advance the common good.

DiscriminationFFAABut religious exemption bills appearing in state legislatures across the country could allow individuals to use their religious beliefs to harm others, paving the way for challenges to virtually any law, including laws designed to protect all of us from various forms of discrimination.

This undermines another important value we all cherish – treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

Religious exemption laws typically allow anyone to challenge any state or local law that they decide they don’t want to follow. While the impact will vary from state to state, in many cases these bills would lead to a number of unintended consequences.

  • Child Welfare – In New Mexico, a local religious leader cited the state religious exemption law when he appealed a conviction for sexually abusing two teenagers.
  • Domestic Violence – Domestic violence and women’s rights organizations across the country have opposed such measures, because, as one advocate wrote “Too often in our history, religion has been used as a justification for the abuse of women and children, often by family members.”
  • Public Safety – In addition to issues relating to child welfare and domestic violence, a religious exemption law could allow a police offiicer to refuse to even interact with certain members of the community, even while on duty. There has already been an example of this in Oklahoma, where an officer cited a RFRA law in defense of his refusal to even attend a community event hosted by a local Islamic Society.
  • Gay and Transgender People – Gay and transgender Americans work hard to earn a decent living and provide for their families – just like everyone else. When a gay or transgender person walks into a business or government office, they shouldn’t have to worry if they will be turned away simply because of who they are. No matter how you feel about marriage for gay and lesbian couples, treating all people with respect is something we can all agree on.
  • State & Local Government – Religious exemption laws muddy the legal landscape and have already led to many costly lawsuits across the country, as local municipalities have been embroiled in lengthy litigation. In Arizona, it took one small town four years to settle a dispute where the plaintiff used a similar law as a basis for refusing to comply with an ordinance regulating sign postings. The National League of Cities and the National Associations of Counties have both cautioned against such laws.

Discrimination is bad for business and the economy

That’s why state Chambers of Commerce, professional sports teams and businesses across America have spoken out against religious exemption laws. We want our state to be a place that welcomes all people who want to work hard and help grow our economy.

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