Maine: Open For Business… For Everyone.

IMG_1640Perhaps you’ve been hearing about laws in Indiana and Arkansas (among other states) that would allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against people—particularly, women and LGBTQ people—and to justify that discrimination as an exercise of religious freedom. These are called Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA) laws, and Maine is one of several states considering a RFRA bill this year.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, protected by the Maine Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But unlike our existing religious freedom protections, this bill puts an individual’s beliefs ahead of the common good of all Mainers.

The federal RFRA law was the one that allowed Hobby Lobby to pick and choose which birth control methods their employee’s health insurance will cover. In many states, RFRA laws have already fostered lawsuits and discrimination (which seems to be disproportionately impacting women and LGBTQ people):

      • In Texas, a public bus driver refused to drive a passenger to Planned Parenthood, citing his religious beliefs.*
      • In Florida, an employer who believed pregnancy outside of marriage is a sin fired an unmarried pregnant employee.**
      • In Georgia, a student enrolled in a university counseling program claimed that she had the religiously based right to defy professional standards and condemn gay clients.***

Maine already has strong protections for religious freedom, and there is no evidence that they are not working. 

Not only do both the Maine and U.S. Constitutions protect religious freedom, but the Maine Human Rights Act also explicitly protects people from discrimination on the basis of religion. In fact, there are 13 individual statutes in Maine that protect religious freedom in everything from property tax, to militia service, to immunization and school absences for children.

Maine already has a law that says that doctors and nurses can’t be required to provide abortion if they object. A RFRA law in Maine could, however, open the door to possible claims by health care professionals that they have the right to refuse to provide any medical service based on their religious beliefs (including birth control, blood transfusions, or immunizations), regardless of existing state laws or governing standards of care.

Everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected, but no one should be above the law.

Maine’s RFRA bill would circumvent the non-discrimination laws and the requirements that any individual, group, or business treat all persons fairly, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This proposal creates a gaping exemption to every Maine law, allowing people to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to break laws that apply to everyone else and exist to protect our neighbors.

Laws like RFRA have fostered lawsuits and discrimination in other states, and it’s not good for businesses or business owners.

If this bill passes, it will allow people to take advantage and claim that their religion gives them the right to ignore virtually any law. Businesses will not be able to predict when they may be caught in a legal dilemma, as employees could claim that their religious beliefs give them the right to break nondiscrimination laws. By enabling discrimination, this law also may hurt businesses’ ability to recruit and retain top talent, and may repel customers who refuse to support discrimination.

If Maine is truly open for business, we won’t allow our state to legally sanction discrimination.

The freedom to practice one’s own religion is a protected right, and it should remain that way. Religious freedom means that each person has the right to worship and believe as they choose. It does not, however, give individuals the right to impose their own religious beliefs or practices on others.

Maine Family Planning’s doors are open to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, gender, or any other aspect of their identity. We hope that businesses, community leaders, and individuals in our communities will join us.

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Want to show your support for a state that doesn’t discriminate? Use the hashtags #MaineDoesntDiscriminate and #RejectRFRA on social media, share this post, or display an “Open For Business… for everyone” card at your business (contact us to get one). You can also contact your local representative to voice your concerns with RFRA: click here to find your local representative(s).

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* Graning v. Capital Area Transportation System
** Hamilton v. Southland Christian School
*** Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley
 

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