If Idaho’s legislators would hearken to the words of Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, more light and less heat might come of the debate over the boundaries of religious conscience.
It was Luker who, after the conclusion of a three-and-a-half-hour hearing on his proposed Free Exercise of Religion Act, pronounced himself gratified by testimony, mostly against, presented by witnesses from among a crowd of 500.
“I think this is what our system is all about. This is my favorite part of the process, when people can come in and share their feelings and their opinions. It has an impact,” he said after the marathon hearing.
That was Wednesday.
On Monday, 44 protesters were removed from the Capitol and arrested because they can no longer tolerate the refusal by legislative leaders to grant them a hearing on an “Add the Words” law that would forbid discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. They have been stonewalled for eight years.
If they were going to be unheard yet again, why not block the entrances to the Senate floor, hands over their mouths, and speak as they have never been permitted to speak?
What is it that legislators are afraid to hear, or to have heard by Idahoans?
Wednesday’s testimony on House bills 426 and 427 – Luker’s Free Exercise legislation – amply demonstrated Idaho citizens understand the danger of sanctioning discrimination as long as it is based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
HB 426 would forbid the state from lifting the license of an individual or business that expresses belief, or denies service to a consumer or refuses to hire someone based on belief.
HB 427 would allow an individual to sue state government or anyone relying on state law, possibly exacting damages in addition to legal costs.
In a five-page legal analysis of the two measures, Assistant Attorney General Brian Kane flags the potential constitutional issues both raise.
But it does not take an attorney to ask who will decide what is “sincerely held,” or even “religious belief.” When does the “emotional or physical injury” inflicted become “intentional”?
And why are the questions of religious practice raised by the two bills any different from those legislators so persistently do not want to hear when they touch on gender and sexuality?
Idaho is hardly alone in its exploration of the reach of government into religion, and of religion into government. The peculiar aspect of its discussion is the refusal to incorporate the voices of a population with sincerely held sexual identities more inborn than any religious dogma.
Luker says his bill “does not oppress gay and lesbian people and their choices – all it is, is a bill that says if we have a religious objection, we shouldn’t be compelled to celebrate your choice.”
Nobody is calling for a celebration, just a hearing “when people can come in and share their feelings and their opinions. It has an impact.”
Wouldn’t that be something.