COLUMBUS, OH — Two Ohio lawmakers introduced a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) this week, complementing the federal law that is already the standard across the nation.
Representatives Tim Derickson (R) and Bill Patmon (D) held a press conference on Wednesday in the state capital to outline the purpose of the bill, and also issued a news release the same day.
“For most Ohioans, faith and worship play a vital role in their lives and provide a sense of hope and community,” Derickson stated. “We are privileged as Americans to have a guaranteed right to free speech and free exercise of religion. It is important that religious and political leaders work together to defend religious liberties on behalf of our citizens of all faiths, and implementing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Ohio will help to accomplish this goal.”
The bi-partisan bill seeks to ensure that practices such as wearing a cross to work, posting Christian artwork or hosting student-led prayer at school events, and other public displays of faith, are protected.
During the news conference, Patmon spoke of his belief that government came from God, and it is therefore government’s duty to protect the freedoms bestowed on the nation by God.
“[The Declaration of Independence] talks about how our right as human beings are not given to us by government, nor the Constitution, but by God,” he said. “Protect what God has given you; that is the whole idea.”
“The Northwest Ordinance, which Ohio is a part of, [said] that in order to have good government, religion is necessary,” Patmon continued. “Well, why is it necessary? Because somebody has to have the scales of justice. Where did the scales of justice come from? I would submit to you, if you look deeply, that’s a biblical idea.”
Therefore, the men seek to protect religious freedom in the state from activist judges by ensuring that the “strict scrutiny” standard is applied in all lawsuits that challenge religious practices. The standard, commonly used in courts across the country, requires that the regulation have a “compelling government interest” in order to pass constitutional scrutiny.
The men state that because they have observed religious freedoms being eroded in the courts in other states, they wish to ensure proper protection in Ohio.
“In this case, we want to make sure—perfectly sure—that if someone out there wants to put up an expression of their religion, wants to pray in school, that they’re not put upon and pushed around,” Patmon continued. “And that’s why I signed on to this legislation.”
Currently, 17 states have similar religious freedom statutes on the books. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, but only applies to federal laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has urged states to enact their own RFRA law to protect citizens.
The Ohio proposal is approved by Family Research Council, the Liberty Foundation, Citizens for Community Values, Citizen Link and other national and local religious groups.