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Proposed religious freedom bill in Michigan generates heated debate in committee

April 30, 2015

Hours after U.S. Supreme Court heard the cases of same-sex married couples in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, state Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, testified in front of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to show support to Senate Bill 4, or the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The bill, which is modeled after the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would protect residents that act or refuse to act based on their religious convictions if they are “motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.”

In his testimony, Shirkey said the reason to bring the bill is to protect everyone that wants to practice their own religion and abide by it.

“As elected officials there are two fundamental questions we need to resolve,” Shirkey said. “Did our founding fathers intended to accommodate or simply tolerate religious freedom?”

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said the proposed Act should not be compared to the one passed in Indiana.

Indiana’s legislature initially proposed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act but, after a national backlash, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill with major amendments.

“This is not like the Indiana RFRA. This is federal law supported by Kennedy, Clinton and the same that Obama voted when he was in Illinois,” Jones said.

During the hearing, different residents voiced their opposition against the bill — state Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, was the committee member that opposed and questioned Shirkey the most.

Rocca asked Shirkey if under the proposed bill a landlord was allowed to deny housing to an interracial couple based on his or her religious beliefs.

The question created a controversy due to Shirkey’s response — Shirkey stated the example had nothing to do with his bill.

Rocca said he would vote against the bill because it could be discriminatory to certain minorities.

“The sponsor won’t answer some basic questions on the types of discriminations that could (occur),” Rocca said. “It’s an important issue. I think we should have a thorough discussion on it.”

Even though the bill is not up for a vote yet, Gov. Rick Snyder already said he would vetoed the bill.

Snyder’s decision is not stopping Shirkey from pushing this bill.

“Just because he says it doesn’t mean he is right,” Shirkey said. “There is a legislature here in town not just the executive office, and I believe we have every right and frankly the obligation to make sure that this is properly evaluated.”

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, said in a statement the bill is discriminatory.

“Despite the name, this bill is not about religious freedom — that is already protected under the Constitution and upheld by the federal government,” Bieda said in a statement Tuesday. “While its proponents contend that this bill is a shield for religious freedom, in reality, it more of ... a sword to encourage individuals to use religious beliefs as an excuse to violate the rights of others.”

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