DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa Senate panel has advanced a bill that seeks to protect the religious liberty of its residents, while opponents claim that if the proposal becomes law, it could hurt the state economy.
According to the Des Moines Register, Senate Study Bill 3171, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), might soon move to the full Senate for consideration.
Its purpose is to mirror state law with the federal RFRA, which prohibits the government from burdening the free exercise of religion without a compelling interest—and even then, using the least restrictive means possible. The legal standard, known as strict scrutiny, is used by courts nationwide, including in cases not associated with religion.
“Government shall not subsequently burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to that person’s exercise of religion is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” the bill reads.
“A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened in violation of this [law] may assert such violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding and obtain appropriate relief,” the legislation also outlines.
Both supporters and opponents of the bill appeared before the Senate Local Government Committee as it deliberated the proposal on Feb. 12. The first to speak favorably about the measure were Dick and Betty Odgaard, who formerly owned the Gortz Haus Gallery—that is, until they decided to close it down after being leveled with a discrimination lawsuit for declining to allow a same-sex ceremony on the premises.
The couple also received a number of hateful messages from those who were intolerant of the Odgaard’s Christian faith.
“You are mean, rude, selfish, [expletive] racist sons of [expletive] from Hell,” one message stated. “[Expletive] your God. [Expletive] your religion.”
“Betty, you’re very old and almost dead,” another email read. “How do you both feel knowing that America and the world will be a better place without you?”
“They painted us with a very ugly brush,” Betty Odgaard told the panel, advising that perhaps their business might not have closed if the law had been in place at the time. “We loved these people. We meant no ill will. We received death threats. Their main aim was to shut us down.”
Conversely, the Principal Financial Group, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Iowa Chamber Alliance said that if the bill passes, it could result in economic ramifications, such as the potential cancellation of the 2019 NCAA regional men’s basketball tournament. They additionally asserted that businesses might have difficulty attracting new employees.
“There are severe negative implications going down this road for businesses,” John Stineman, executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, stated, according to the Des Moines Register.
“As we’ve seen in other states, similar legislation has had a negative impact with respect to business development, recruiting a talented workforce, and attracting important conferences and conventions,” the coalition also said in a statement to KCRG-TV.
In Acts 5, the Scriptures outline that when the Apostle Peter and others were told not to preach in the name of Jesus, they replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Romans 13 also explains that government leaders are to serve as “the minister of God,” doing Christ’s will in the world for good, and acting as a “revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”