Introduced near the end of session, HB 3609, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Lindsay (R-Hillsboro) would have put a person’s free exercise of religion above any neutral state or local laws, including civil rights laws, if the person asserted that the law infringed on his or her religious beliefs.

This proposal has been introduced in past sessions and we have testified against these proposals because they put important civil rights protections at risk.

HB 3609 requires that when a person claims a public body is burdening a person’s exercise of religion, the public body has the burden of establishing a compelling government interest and that the law is the least restrictive means available to achieve that interest. This strict standard is the most stringent level of scrutiny and is very difficult, if not impossible, for the government to satisfy.

In reality, these proposals are often used to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. For example, if state law prohibits an apartment owner from discriminating against someone who is gay, the owner could refuse to rent to that individual by asserting that renting to that applicant violates his or her religious beliefs. Although we believe that courts should find civil rights laws compelling and enforce them in the least restrictive means possible, we know that several courts, including our own 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, have come to the opposite conclusion.

The ACLU was one of the founding members of the coalition that supported federal legislation around religious liberty and, along with a very broad based coalition of religious and civil rights groups, we supported the 2000 federal law, known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

This law covers two significant areas that have comprised the majority of litigation across the country. To name only a few, RLUIPA addressed problems with prohibitions on home worship meetings and bible studies, church soup kitchens and homeless shelters, remodeling or expanding worship space and the ability of religious assemblies to build in a locality together.

We testified in opposition to HB 3609 because we believe that state proposals such as HB 3609 are unnecessary and dangerous when it comes to ensuring meaningful civil rights protections. Because HB 3609 was introduced late, it was assigned to the House Rules Committee and was given a hearing. The ACLU testified against HB 3609 and the bill did not advance out of the Committee.