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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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"Bolger was lining it up with the federal bill that was approved. It was just for government workers. It didn't involve private workers," McCready said.

McCready did note that "we have a diverse community that we live in, especially here in the district. I don't know how the government should or shouldn't be involved."

"I allowed the bill to have a hearing. I thought it was very educational. Everyone got to have their say, and now we can move on to other issues," said Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, who said in early May he did not intend to bring the bill before the Senate committee for a vote. "The Governor is opposed based on Elliott-Larsen, and I don't have any say in bringing that before the full Senate. But more importantly, businesses have said that they don't want to have any backlash like they had in other states."

Shirkey's senate office said he would not comment further on his own bill.

Numerous businesses, large and small, object to a Michigan RFRA and to the concurrent lack of expansion of civil rights to the gay community, as evidenced by testimony not only during this Senate hearing, but more notably in 2014.

Simultaneous to the introduction to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2014 and as a companion to the bill, former state Rep. Frank Foster (R- Petoskey) introduced an expansion to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT community.

The goal was to amend the state's civil rights act to provide protection to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected from employment discrimination. Businesses around the state strongly supported the expansion of Elliott-Larsen, as does the governor. But not only did the legislation fail because Republican leadership would not include the transgender community in the bill, but it also ended up costing Foster his seat in the state House.

"Two years ago, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, Jeff Irwin, came to me and said, 'You probably don't know this, but there's no protection from gender orientation and identity.' I said I didn't know that," said the 28-year-old Foster. "Irwin told me he wanted to sponsor a bill to include it, but that would be better coming from a Republican. I understood and agreed. Probably in February (2014), I understood the implications this would have for me, as well. The polling numbers in my district were terrible, but I felt we in Michigan were on the wrong side of history."

Foster said that the previous fall, he met Lee Chatfield, who would go on to unseat him, in the district. Chatfield told him straight out that he didn't like the expansion of the Elliott-Larsen bill, and that if Foster didn't give it up, he would be forced to run against him.

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