I recently reached out to proponents of LD 1428: An Act to Protect Religious Freedom — also referred to as the ‘Maine Religious Liberty Bill’ — which was debated before the Maine House earlier this month, and expected to go before the Maine Senate in the coming days. There’s a lot of ‘noise’ and ‘scare tactics’ out there concerning this bill, and reading the text of the bill isn’t much help in understanding it. Therefore, this article serves to clear the air for people like me who were looking for clear and understandable reasons to support it.
I proposed the following questions to Carroll Conley, a vocal supporter of the legislation (and in the interest of full disclosure — someone I consider a friend and ally).
[QUESTION]: In a couple sentences or less, can you discuss the purpose of Maine LD 1428, otherwise known as the Maine Religious Liberty Bill?
[Conley]: LD 1428 “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom” has one purpose: bring Maine law in line with the federal standard regarding any governmental attempt to restrict a Maine citizen’s religious freedom. This standard was re-established by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act by such proponents as President Bill Clinton, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Maine’s own George Mitchell.
LD 1428 mirrors the 1993 RFRA which the ACLU and Harvard Law Review said was a necessary after the Supreme Court had “gutted” the First Amendment with a horrible decision in 1990.
[Q]: Can you give a few brief scenarios where you see this bill, if it becomes law, protecting Maine citizens?
[Conley]: This bill would protect the religious liberties of new minorities who find present zoning laws stacked against newcomers and in favor of the status quo. It also would protect state chaplains’ (prison, law enforcement, etc.) rights to offer ministry to those in their care in accordance to their church doctrines without state or municipal interference.
All Mainer’s religious freedoms are precious and worthy of protection. Could anyone honestly argue that our religious freedoms are not being attacked and eroded?
[Q]: What is your response to detractors of this bill that say it would “lead to legalized discrimination”?
[Conley]: This federal standard (compelling interest and least restrictive means) has been adopted by 18 states (including Connecticut since 1993). Discrimination has not been legalized in any of these states — period. Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, and yet they have the same law and have experienced no threat to those newly established civil rights.
Opponents to religious freedom scream, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” If this bill were asking Maine to venture into uncharted waters, those fears could be considered sincere and legitimate. However, in light of the fact so many states having already safely and effectively navigated these waters, these assertions are nothing more than disingenuous fear mongering.
[Q]: Would you like to share any other thoughts?
[Conley]: Let’s use a sports analogy. Suppose you are a citizen who wants to exercise your religious expression. In terms of baseball, your goal is to get to first base (first base = first amendment).
Standing on the mound is the Federal government who believes he has a compelling interest to keep you from getting to first base. The Federal government has to get three strikes to keep you from getting to first base. You are fortunate enough to get a hit in your first at bat. The next time you dig in at the plate, a different pitcher is on the mound—the Maine state government. The pitcher winds up and as the ball goes into the catcher’s mitt, the umpire yells, “Strike one; you’re out!”
You turn and say to the ump, “Hey, that’s not fair!”
To which he replies, “Maine doesn’t play by the same rules.”
LD 1428 simply says it should be just as difficult for Maine and its municipalities to interfere with our freedoms as it is for the Federal government. Requiring the same standard for both governments does not guarantee they will get you out, nor does it guarantee you will get a hit — just a level playing field.
I also reached out to fellow LD 1428 proponent Bob Emrich.
Emrich provided some real-world examples from around the country — citing this article – where a person’s religious freedom was violated, explaining that LD 1428 would provide Mainers protection if these cases where to happen in our state:
- A then-second-grade student at a public school in New Jersey was told that she could not sing “Awesome God” in an after-school talent show. (link to story)
- A pastor of a church in Arizona was ordered to stop holding meetings or Bible studies in his private home, then jailed and sentenced when he refused. (link to story)
- Five men were threatened with arrest for sharing their faith on a public sidewalk in Virginia. (link to story)
- A pro-life nurse at a hospital in New York was forced to participate in a late-term abortion, even though her workplace had agreed in writing to honor her religious convictions. (link to story)
My closing thoughts
Quite frankly, when I first heard of LD 1428 and set out to write this article, I thought it’s whole purpose was to further protect churches and pastors from lawsuits if they refuse to perform gay marriages. As we can see from the thoughts and examples shared here, gay marriage is not this bill’s concern at all.
Furthermore, many may wrongly assume that this bill elevates the rights of Christians above other religious groups because it’s most identifiable supporters are Christian. That is not the case. As previously explained by Carroll Conley, this bill would protect all religions equally on par with the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the federal level.
In light of the clarity brought to this discussion by Conley and Emrich, I urge my fellow Mainers to support this bill and to contact your State Representatives and Senators to encourage them to support it as well. LD 1428 is expected to go before the Senate in the coming days so time is of the essence.