ADL slams controversial US religious freedom bills

Both Arkansas and Indiana both passed bills that would keep the government from forcing business owners to act against their strongly held religious beliefs.

April 5, 2015 02:13
2 minute read.

Gay marriage. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

The Anti-Defamation League weighed in on controversial US bills aimed at protecting religious liberty that critics worry will allow businesses to discriminate against homosexuals.

The national Jewish organization on Thursday called on the 17 US states that have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to amend the language of the law to “ensure they cannot be used to discriminate or harm others.”

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Both Arkansas and Indiana just passed such bills, which will keep the government from forcing business owners to act against their strongly held religious beliefs, according to supporters.

The Indiana bill stipulates that “a governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

“ADL is an ardent advocate for religious freedom, but America’s protections for free exercise of religion were never intended to be a sword to harm or discriminate against others,” said ADL chief Abraham Foxman, echoing concerns that the law would allow businesses to discriminate against serving LGBT people because of religious objections to their lifestyle.

“Although such bills appear to primarily target the LGBT community, businesses could use them to deny service based on religion, gender, or ethnicity. Last year, at least eight such measures were filed in state legislatures. All but Mississippi’s failed when an Arizona bill – similar to the new Indiana law – was vetoed under intense pressure from civil rights groups and major business interests. So far this year, 14 state bills have been filed,” he said in a joint statement with ADL national chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher.

Both Indiana and Arkansas are looking to rework the laws in light of widespread protests. Some of the most powerful US companies, including Apple, Angie’s List, diesel engine-maker Cummins Inc., Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and drug-maker Eli Lilly and Co. had called on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to clarify or repeal the law, which passed with an overwhelming majority in the state’s legislature.

“Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228,” Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted last week.

The ADL also called on state legislatures “deliberating a similar measure to cease consideration of them. And in light of the US Supreme Court’s deeply troubling Hobby Lobby decision, we urge Congress and states with existing RFRAs to review, and if necessary amend, their laws to ensure they cannot be used to discriminate or harm the rights of others.”

The ADL was referring to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that a privately held business may refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives to employees.

Jewish groups lined up on both sides of the issue, with Orthodox groups likening the law to mandates overseas banning ritual slaughter and liberal Jewish groups saying its reversal would impinge on the rights of women and could set a precedent allowing employers to deny a range of services for religious beliefs, for instance blood transfusions and other medical interventions.

Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.

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