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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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However, RFRA was held to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 in the case City of Boerne v. Flores, where the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio wanted to enlarge a church in Boerne, Texas. A Boerne ordinance protected the church as a historic landmark. The church sued, citing RFRA, and the Supreme Court struck it down, stating that Congress had stepped beyond their permitted power provided in the Fourteenth Amendment (which addresses citizens' rights).

In 2003, the federal Act was amended to only include the federal government. It was successfully utilized in the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision involving Obamacare, which permitted the company to not provide birth control to its employees as a health care expense, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, stating it conflicted with the religious beliefs of the company's owners.

Since, individual states have turned to RFRA as a tool. Yet according to cases which continue to come before the U.S. Supreme Court, it's constitutionality continues to be tested, with the government having to show compelling state interest in restricting religious conduct. For an example, in 2013, the Arizona legislature created their own act after a New Mexico photographer who refused to document a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony was determined to have violated New Mexico's public accommodation laws. After public outcry, former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

In December 2014, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act on straight party lines, by a vote of 59-50. However, the state Senate declined at the time to put the bill up for a vote. It was sponsored by former Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), who said the goal was to merely protect people and their beliefs and practice of religion. At the time, they used differing examples, such as the baker who didn't want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, as well as a Jewish mother who didn't want an autopsy for her son who died in a car crash, or a pediatrician who doesn't want the child of a lesbian couple as a patient.

Rep. Mike McCready (R-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township) said he voted for the bill in 2014. Today, he's unsure if he would be as supportive, as a new Senate bill heard in committee in late April 2015, Senate Bill 4, is designed to be expanded to the private sector as well as public sector. Sponsored by state Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), wrote recently regarding his proposed RFRA bill, "Why is Michigan looking to pass its own RFRA and why have so many other states done so? A Supreme Court ruling said that states would need to pass their own state version of RFRA if it wanted its citizens to be protected by overzealous governmental laws or actions...Many states, including our neighbors such as Illinois, started passing state level RFRAs to fully restore the First Amendment rights of their citizens...Far from being a 'license to discriminate,' both the federal RFRA and the proposed Michigan RFRA are a shield to make sure people retain their full First Amendment rights and have an opportunity to defend themselves if governmental laws or actions unfairly impinge upon their sincerely held religious beliefs."

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