BOISE – More than 500 people filled Idaho’s Capitol to speak out against legislation that would allow people to use religion as a basis to refuse service to people with different beliefs or lifestyles.
In hours of passionate testimony overwhelmingly against the bill, opponents said it would undo the protections in local anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This bill before you codifies discrimination,” said Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan. “If a man were to beat his wife and claim to an officer (on religious grounds) that she was not being submissive enough, an arresting officer could be subject to litigation.”
“Please do not codify prejudice in the name of faith,” implored Judy Cross, a deacon at Treasure Valley Metropolitan Community Church. “Please do not allow religious freedom to become religious abuse.”
After more than three and a half hours of testimony overwhelmingly against the bill, the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said he never meant for the measure, HB 427, to be a “sword for discrimination.” He proposed amending it so religion could be used only as a defense in such cases, not as a reason to sue.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I have to agree, as a co-sponsor, that this was not … my intent.” He moved to send the bill out for amendments “to have that fix, and maybe other fixes that we will have.”
A North Idaho lawmaker, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the bill was just plain wrong and tried to get it killed outright but was outvoted 11-5.
Meanwhile, an Idaho attorney general’s opinion raised questions about the constitutionality of the bill.
The opinion concluded that HB 427 conflicts with the Idaho Tort Claims Act and could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge. The bill, according to the opinion by Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, “could subject employees to personal liability when they are simply doing their job and a court later decides that the state or local government policy burdened free exercise of religion.”