In an unprecedented move this week, Idaho legislatures have introduced a bill that would allow businesses to turn away customers based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill was introduced by Idaho Republican representative Lynn Luker. The bill has Idaho legislators preparing to turn their backs on the plights of single mothers and homosexuals. This measure would allow businesses to turn away customers without fear of discrimination suits.
According to Luker, This bill is a pre-emptive measure against what he feels is a fight that will soon be at the state’s doorstep. Other states are already experiencing turbulence as a result of businesses turning away customers based on religious freedoms. In New Mexico a photographer was found guilty of discrimination for denying a homosexual couple his services for a wedding. In Oregon, a baker was found guilty of a similar charge under the same circumstances. Luker wishes to protect the people of Idaho from similar fates by putting this legislation in place before a problem arises.
Under this new bill, any professional who is required a license from the state will be protected against discrimination law suits. If a doctor refuses services to a single mother based on religious beliefs he cannot lose his medical license. A teacher may refuse to teach a student based on the same grounds. Though the bill protects these people from losing their license, it does not prevent them from being fired if they chose to refuse services. Arizona has taken this model one step further. It has introduced a bill extending protection to those business owners without occupational licenses. Luker, in turn, has also introduced an amendment to Idaho’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. This amendment would follow Arizona’s lead.
Luker and his proponents feel as though this is not a blow against discrimination, but rather a victory. Business owners in the past have been forced to pay taxes for services opposed to their religious beliefs, Luker said. Doctors who don’t believe in sex before marriage are forced to provide contraceptives. Other businesses pay taxes for programs that aid single mothers or provide insurance for homosexuals who live in Idaho. These actions directly violate their sincere religious beliefs. This bill, Luker stated, will prevent these owners from being discriminated against, and allow them to express their own religious freedoms.
The bills were passed into debate unanimously by the committee. However, this did not prevent other legislators from challenging the meaning of the bill itself. Luker was pressured into defining what “sincere religious beliefs” actually meant. He was also pressed to explain how a defendant could prove such religious beliefs. “Are you going to bring people to court?” asked state rep Eric Anderson. “If it comes to that,” responded Luker.
Not all legislators feel like this bill is prepping them to turn their backs on single mothers and homosexuals. On the contrary, many are excited at the chance to debate the topic. As it stands now, current Idaho legislation protecting against discrimination does not include homosexuals or single mothers. Nicole LeFavour is a former Idaho state senator, and the first openly gay lawmaker from the state. She believes that this bill–which was introduced to protect doctors, teachers, police officers and the like–will actually spark a debate that brings her cause to the forefront as well. LeFavour has long sought a way to add language to Idaho’s discriminatory legislation protecting homosexual’s rights. She feels this will be an excellent opportunity for her cause to be afforded respect. It will also go far in protecting those living in fear and despair over their own individual rights, she said.
House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne was very critical of the legislature for not placing these heated topics on the slate for discussion by the legislator this year. He feels that Luker’s bill will allow for the open discussion that is needed regarding these controversial matters. “It gives us an opportunity to continue the discussion; to change minds,” Burgoyne said.
As it stands, no hearing date has been set to debate whether the Idaho legislators will turn their backs on homosexuals and single mothers. House state affairs committee chairman Tom Loertscher plans to schedule the hearing very soon. The date hinges on providing a large enough venue for what will surely draw a huge crowd of eager and anxious citizens from both sides of the issue.
By Chris Chisam