DES MOINES, Iowa – A state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was introduced in the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.
SF 436 prohibits state or local government from substantially burdening Iowans’ religious freedom. It also provides a standard of judicial review and claim of defense for Iowans who claim they are impacted in that way by a state’s action.
The bill requires that the state show it is furthering a compelling government interest and that their action is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The bill is modeled after the federal RFRA law enacted in 1993.
Under current law, courts are not required to apply heightened scrutiny when the state burdens a right enshrined in both the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. RFRA provides a balancing test for courts to use in deciding cases involving a claim that the state’s action is a significant burden to religious liberty.
Opponents of the bill, particularly the LGBTQ lobby such as One Iowa Action, Iowa Safe Schools, and Human Rights Campaign, say the bill will allow discrimination.
Several business groups such as Iowa Business Council, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Wellmark, Iowa Chamber Alliance, and Principal also oppose the bill. They are also joined by progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and League of Women Voters of Iowa.
Groups such as the Iowa Catholic Conference and The FAMiLY Leader support the bill.
State Senator Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, the bill’s primary sponsor, told The Iowa Torch it is necessary to protect Iowans’ religious freedom.
“We need RFRA to stop discrimination against people of faith. They are often living in fear of intimidation for simply living according to the dictates of their conscience,” he said. “The problem today is not people of faith forcing their views on others. It is secular society forcing its views on people of faith.”
State Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, another sponsor of the bill, said the legislation gives Iowans who may have their religious freedom substantially burdened a defense.
“We have seen examples of people persecuted for their beliefs by low and mid-level government boards without due process. This bill says everybody gets their day in court,” he told The Iowa Torch. “The bill is neutral to all groups. By setting a level of judicial review it addresses the conduct of the person of faith and not anybody else.”
Guth said RFRA levels the playing field.
“This bill just insures a level playing field so all people are treated on equal terms. It does not discriminate. Currently, people of faith are often discriminated against,” he said.
Daniel Sunne, policy liaison with The FAMiLY Leader, said the bill protects Iowans’ First Amendment rights.
“Every Iowan should be free to live and work according to their faith, without fear of being unjustly punished by government. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would simply require that if a government agency interferes with someone’s sincere religious belief, the government (1) must have a compelling interest to do so and (2) must act in the least restrictive way possible. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act forces our state government to take every Iowans’ freedom seriously,” he told The Iowa Torch.
The bill was referred to the Iowa Senate State Government Committee, and a subcommittee consisting of Guth, Schultz, and State Senator Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, have been assigned.
Both Guth and Schultz told The Iowa Torch passing the bill through committee before the first funnel deadline will be challenging.
Other bill sponsors include State Senators Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, and Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center.