HB 376, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), substantially expands opportunities for an individual to file a lawsuit if they feel that their exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened by any state or local action, law, or administrative rule. A person may use HB 376 to take legal action or as a defense in a case against the state or local government, a private person, or business entities. A challenged law will be upheld only if the government can show that the law is essential to further its compelling interest and that there was no other way to achieve that compelling interest.
LCS Legislation Status
Our Take on This Bill
The ACLU firmly believes that every person has the right to believe in and act on their personal religious beliefs—free from government intrusion. Throughout its more than 90 years in existence, the ACLU has defended the rights of countless individuals whose religious liberty was jeopardized by government actions.
Unfortunately, HB 376 opens a Pandora’s box of claims that a state or local law imposes on someone’s religious beliefs. Because HB 376, by its terms, forbids the government to place even an insubstantial burden on religion, even a trivial burden may be contested. For example, a person could file a lawsuit against a municipality for ticketing their car during a church service, claiming imposition on their right to worship.
The bill’s sponsors have publicly stated inaccurate claims that HB 376 will allow for public schools to teach creationism and display religious themed portraits. In cases (such as these) that involve rights protected by federal law, federal law will still apply preventing these infringements of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. On the other hand, HB 376 would effectively jeopardize Ohioans’ rights under state and local law. Accordingly, this bill could be used to justify discrimination or even criminal acts committed in the name of religion. For example, this bill could undermine local LGBT anti-discrimination laws, provide defenses for perpetrators of domestic violence who claim religious protection, or force public schools to change lesson plans to accommodate individuals’ religious ideologies.
This fact that this bill provides a private right of action will fuel and increase litigation against Ohio’s businesses and public entities, such as schools.
The ACLU of Ohio strongly opposes this bill and urges the legislature to abandon this effort as detrimental to the civil liberties of Ohioans.
Update - 5/19/2014: Thanks to an outcry of opposition from ACLU of Ohio members and other partner organizations, the House Judiciary Committee, in a rare legislative move, voted on 2/26/13 to indefinitely postpone this legislation.