Idaho Bill Would Allow Anyone to Discriminate Against Anyone Else Based on Religious Beliefs

| by Allison Geller

Conservative Idaho lawmaker Rep. Lynn Luker introduced a bill as a “pre-emptive” strike against professionals being forced to serve or employ people when doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

Rep. Luker (R-Boise) presented the legislation to prevent Idaho professionals from having their licenses revoked if they discriminate against gay people. Which hasn’t actually happened yet, but Luker is sure it will.

"This is pre-emptive," Luker said. "The issue is coming, whether it's 10 years, or 15 years, or two years."

The bill is a reaction to two highly publicized stories about Christian business owners refusing to serve gays: an Oregon bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which is in negotiations with a lesbian couple after having turned them away based on their sexual orientation, and a New Mexico photographer who was fined for refusing to shoot a gay couple’s commitment ceremony.

“There’s unfortunately greater antagonism toward religion,” Luker said. “We’ve seen government compel photographers, bakers and florists to be penalized for their religious beliefs. We’ve seen counselors in the field of psychiatry penalized for providing certain treatments.”

Idaho's Human Rights Act contains no protections for gay people, and Republican lawmakers have made sure it stays that way. Even so, Luker wants to go farther in allowing anyone—teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers— to cite their “sincerely held beliefs” if they don’t want to serve or hire someone. 

The effort is backed by Cornerstone Family Council advocacy group, a Christian organization.

Julie Lynde, Cornerstone's executive director, sees a reverse discrimination in government laws that prevent people from "living out their faith."

"The free expression of religious freedom is no longer understood for what it was intended," Lynde said. "There's a double standard against people of traditional religious faiths."

Luker’s bill is similar to one proposed recently in Arizona that sanctions discrimination by Christian business owners, but the Idaho bill goes a step farther in allowing even people without a professional license to claim religious exemption.

“We as a nation have almost divorced any association with a higher being,” Luker said.

The bill passed unanimously in committee. It will now move on to a full committee hearing.

Sources: Associated Press, The Spokesman-Review, Twin Falls Times-News