ADL Cautions States on “Religious Freedom” Laws That Empower Discrimination

New York, NY, April 1, 2015 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today called upon state legislatures to halt consideration of “religious freedom” laws that have been perverted to empower businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community and others.

ADL urged Congress and the 17 states with existing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (“RFRA”) to revise these laws to ensure they cannot be used to discriminate or harm others.

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:

ADL is an ardent advocate for religious freedom, but America’s protections for free exercise of religion were never intended to be a sword to harm or discriminate against others. 

While we are pleased that Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has urged his state legislature to change a recently passed bill, we urge him to veto the current problematic version, which is similar to Indiana’s controversial new “religious freedom” law.

ADL also calls on state legislatures deliberating a similar measure to cease consideration of them. And in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply troubling Hobby Lobby decision, we urge Congress and states with existing RFRAs to review, and if necessary amend, their laws to ensure they cannot be used to discriminate or harm the rights of others.

We have been pleased to see the outpouring of objections to these bills, particularly by the business community, which recognizes and values the importance of equality in their communities.

Indiana’s new law and the Arkansas legislation are part of a multiyear trend by state legislatures to move forward “religious freedom” bills that empower businesses to discriminate based on religious belief.  

Although such bills appear to primarily target the LGBT community, businesses could use them to deny service based on religion, gender or ethnicity.  Last year, at least eight such measures were filed in state legislatures. All but Mississippi’s failed when an Arizona bill – similar to the new Indiana law – was vetoed under intense pressure from civil rights groups and major business interests.  So far this year, 14 state bills have been filed.

Contrary to claims of proponents, the Indiana, Arkansas and other state measures are not the same as the 1993 federal RFRA.

ADL supported the federal law because it was a shield to protect the religious exercise of individuals and faith-based institutions from government infringement.  It was never intended to apply to for-profit businesses or be raised as a defense in private disputes.  However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision extended federal RFRA protections to for-profit, close corporations, and served as the impetus for even broader, problematic state bills that have come in reaction to progress on marriage equality.  

Last month the ADL submitted a statement to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice outlining the detrimental implications of the Hobby Lobby decision and misinterpretation of the federal RFRA.