CLEVELAND, OH – Today, the ACLU of Ohio announced its opposition to H.B. 376, a bill that claims to protect individual religious freedom, but instead encourages people to use religion as a justification for ignoring local ordinances, employment rules and even criminal law.

“We are a nation governed by laws,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “This legislation emboldens people to turn their back on those laws simply by claiming a religious exemption.”

“Individual religious freedom is critically important,” Link added. “That is why the ACLU has fought so hard for so many years to defend it. But religious freedom is not a free pass to ignore the law or strip away the safety and civil rights of others.”

Supporters of H.B. 376 have claimed that it is simply another state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. However, Ohio’s legislation is the most extreme in the nation and goes further than any other state RFRA.

If passed, the Ohio RFRA could be invoked to undermine local LGBT anti-discrimination laws, to force public schools and universities to modify their academic requirements to suit individual religious ideologies, or simply to ignore state and local laws. Other states with RFRA legislation have already seen individuals and groups using religious freedom as justification for all sorts of bad behavior, some of it criminal.

  • Criminal Justice: Police officers in Arizona and Oklahoma have used religious freedom as an excuse to refuse orders that offended their personal religious views. Citizens in Pennsylvania have used their state RFRA to claim they have a religious right to violate local ordinances.
  • Public Health: Pharmacists in Illinois have used religious freedom as a defense for withholding medication.
  • Child Safety: A Virginia pastor who helped kidnap a child from her legal guardian cited religious freedom as his legal defense. In New Mexico, a local religious leader cited the state RFRA when he appealed a conviction for sexually abusing two teenagers.
  • LGBT Rights: A business in New Mexico used religious freedom as a legal defense for denying service to an LGBT couple.

“Whether legislators intended for these kinds of negative consequences or simply failed to anticipate them, they should abandon this bad legislation,” said Link.