COLUMBUS, Ohio – The furor over a “religious freedom” bill in Arizona has prompted two Ohio lawmakers to withdraw their version from consideration in the Statehouse.
On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the version of the bill passed by that state’s legislature, which came under fire for protecting those who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays.
Representatives Tim Derickson (R-Oxford) and Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) issued a joint statement hours before Brewer’s announcement that they wanted consideration of their bill discontinued, citing concern over the bill’s unintended consequences.
The pair said the bill they introduced in December was intended to protect the ability of Ohioans to freely worship and exercise their religious beliefs, not to promote discrimination.
“The intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was to ensure Ohioans’ religious freedom by protecting their ability to freely worship and preventing any laws from burdening the free exercise of religion. However, with the controversy that is occurring in Arizona, we feel that it is in the best interest of Ohioans that there be no further consideration of this legislation,” Derickson and Patmon said in their statement.
FreedomOhio, the committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, praised the move.
The bill would have allowed anyone to cite their First Amendment right to freedom of religion as a defense against a law or other action resulting from a “state action,” such as a discrimination lawsuit, unless the law is “essential to further a compelling governmental interest” or is the least intrusive way of furthering that interest.
Although “religious freedom” bills in more than a dozen other states grew out of a case involving the use of peyote in native American rituals, the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned that the Ohio bill could open a “Pandora’s box of claims,” including cases where the laws are cited as justification for “discrimination or even criminal acts committed in the name of religion.”