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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
06/01/2015 - Freedom is an important and significant word. It's the basis for the first three articles of our Bill of Rights. According to the dictionary, one meaning is "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint"; another definition states freedom is "the power of self-determination attributed to the will, the quality of being independent of fate or necessity." Yet those definitions of freedom can simultaneously be interpreted from opposite sides of the same coin, forcing conflicting groups to have divergent understandings of what freedom is, and who should enjoy which freedoms.

Religious freedom, an issue currently being played out and debated across the country, including Michigan, is a prime example of that differing of opinion, and a principle upon which the United States was first established. The freedom of religion is one that supports the freedom of an individual or community, whether in public or private, to practice their religion or beliefs, in practice, worship, teachings, and observance. Many consider the freedom of religion a fundamental human right.

The dispute in modern day America centers around how, in efforts to either support or stifle another group's pursuit of religious freedom, another entity can be hurt, marginalized or potentially discriminated against.

That is the tango of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, federally enacted to protect the free exercise of religion in November of 1993 under President Bill Clinton, but resurrecting its head in several states, such as Indiana and Michigan, in efforts to "protect" businesses from having to perform professional duties at gay weddings.

Others wonder if the state acts are just an excuse to legislate and legitimize discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

"The bill has been purely defined, both independently and nationally. It is what it is. Everyone has an opinion. But we've seen what has happened (in Indiana)," said Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake). "There are some people adamantly opposed to baking a cake with a serpent on it. And then you get into gay rights."

The national Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, was introduced by Democrats Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Chuck Schumer in March 1993, in order to "ensure that interests in religious freedom are protected," with only three senators voting against the bill. While it was meant to, and does, apply to all religions, it was actually designed towards Native American religions that feel burdened by increased expansion of government lands onto their sacred lands. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment states that Congress shall not pass laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

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