A subset of bills recently introduced to the Michigan Legislature has prompted concern that attempts to protect religious liberty in the business and healthcare sectors will propagate discriminatory practices. Earlier this week, three bills permitting faith-based adoption agencies to cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse service to either unmarried or same-sex couples were proposed by a Michigan House committee. Under the legislation, their refusal to serve these populations of individuals would in no way decrease the state funding received by these institutions. The emergence of this legislation demonstrates a desperate need to modify the state’s anti-discrimination policies and to re-examine the role of religion in businesses and state-funded organizations.
These bills, offering religious exemptions for adoption agencies, are merely an addition to an already large amount of legislation permitting discriminatory policies. A similar initiative was proposed in 2013, with the introduction of two bills that would enable adoption agencies to deny the placement of a child in a household based upon the couples’ sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
Denying individuals services based solely upon a religious viewpoint is both an ethical violation and a contradiction of the standard of separation of church and state. Although some jurisprudence, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, may merely blur the lines between professional and personal beliefs by dictating the extent of coverage for medical expenses, other legislation advocating religious liberty could lead to life-threatening scenarios. For example, advocating the right of an individual to refuse to provide services, ranging from wedding planning to emergency medical treatment, sets a dangerous and terrifying precedent. Both situations would be permitted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was reintroduced for consideration in Michigan in last November. Nationwide, roughly 19 states have adopted some version of RFRA.
While protecting religious liberty is indeed necessary in government dealings, a division must be maintained between religion and federally funded matters. Furthermore, while the potential enactment of these bills seeks to protect one group, another is left susceptible to various forms of discrimination. For example, the infant of a lesbian couple in Michigan was denied treatment due to the fact the parents’ relationship conflicted with the pediatrician’s religious views. Scenarios such as this one could reoccur if stronger anti-discrimination laws are not enacted within the state. The state’s current anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, does not include protections for members of the LGBTQ community, making discriminatory practices against these individuals perfectly legal within the state of Michigan. Passing these bills can only result in negative consequences. Therefore, allowing the enactment of these laws and failing to revise current discrimination protections would be a neglectful and disturbing move by the Michigan legislature.