Idaho Legislature Mulling Bill to Protect Religious Liberty of Licensed Professionals

Legislators in Idaho are looking into the merits of a bill that if enacted would protect licensed professionals from being legally harassed for acting upon their religious beliefs.

House Bill 426 was introduced last week by Idaho Representative Lynn Luker of Boise and was referred to the House State Affairs Committee where a hearing is still pending.

"No occupational licensing board or governmental subdivision or entity shall deny, revoke or suspend a person's professional or occupational license, certificate or registration for… Declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person's sincerely held religious beliefs or exercise of religion except where performing emergency response duties for public safety," reads HB 426 in part.

"This section is not a defense to and does not authorize in any way the intentional infliction of emotional or physical injury upon any person."

While local media has focused on how the bill will likely be used to legally protect conservative Christian businessmen from being forced to service gay unions, others have said it goes beyond that one hot-button issue.

Julie Lynde, executive director at the pro-HB 426 group Cornerstone Family Council, told The Christian Post about the diverse uses for the legislation should it become law.

"This legislation does cover issues in which participating in an event such as legal work for same sex adoptions, or fertility treatments for [same-sex] couples could be an issue; but it would also cover issues in which a licensed caterer, who for religious reasons, only serves kosher food and is required by a client to serve non-kosher items," said Lynde.

"H426 covers more religious freedom issues than simply those created by a conflict between homosexual demands and sincerely held religious convictions."

Lynde also told CP what she finds appealing about the proposed bill, including reaffirmation of "the First amendment rights of conscience for licensed professionals."

"Our first freedom, the free exercise of religion has been enshrined in our Constitution since the Founders gave their lives, fortune and sacred honor to create a country that allowed citizens to thrive without threat of religious persecution," said Lynde.

"Across the country, counselors, lawyers, doctors, adoption agencies, etc. have their very ability to work in the profession for which they have labored, threatened by a politically correct mindset. This mindset considers religious convictions a second class freedom."

Critics of HB 426 have said that the bill is "simply unnecessary", as argued by Kathy Griesmyer of the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Idaho already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act and laws that allow religious defenses in the professional license and religious land use contexts," wrote Griesmyer.

"In the end, it will only create a legal and bureaucratic mess during a time that Idaho businesses need to operate, without a constant threat of litigation, and grow our economy."

Griesmyer added that HB 426 simply created a "right to discriminate", especially in regards to matters surrounding LGBT issues.

"With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate – by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people – based on religious objections," wrote Griesmyer.

"Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them."