The Republican National Committee is expected to approve a resolution supporting the passage of state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation. The resolution passed out of committee on Wednesday and will come up for a vote before the 168-member governing body on Friday.
The resolution seems carefully written to recommend that states adopt bills “that mirror the federal RFRA to protect citizens’ rights to lead all aspects of their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs.” Indiana and Arkansas recently received national scrutiny for advancing legislation under the name of RFRA that were more expansive than the federal language; both states amended the bills to avoid explicit efforts to allow discrimination against LGBT people.
“Religious freedom continues to be a critically important factor in sustaining the legacy of freedom in America,” the resolution asserts, lauding RFRA for upholding “human dignity and religious conscience.” But despite the way that the “fixes” ameliorated the concerns about discrimination in Indiana and Arkansas, a RFRA in another state — one that mirrors the federal law — has since been used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination.
Just last month, a Kentucky judge reversed a decision against a printing company that refused to make shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival, citing the state’s RFRA. The original ruling that Hands On Originals had violated the city’s LGBT nondiscrimination protections “substantially burdened” the shop’s owners’ “free exercise of religion,” the judge ruled, and “punished” them “for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Forcing the business to print shirts that “convey messages contrary to their faith” — in this case, the words “Lexington Pride Festival,” the number “5”, and some rainbow-colored circles — substantially burdens their religious beliefs in violation of the RFRA.
In other words, there is now evidence that even a RFRA written as moderately as the federal law can be used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. The U.S. Supreme Court has already set a precedent for reading the law in an expansive way, interpreting it to allow employers like Hobby Lobby to to refuse contraception coverage to female employees. By approving this resolution, the RNC will be endorsing the passage of laws that could now allow for discrimination against both women and LGBT people in the name of religion.