An Idaho Republican can’t think of anyone in his state who has been forced to render aid to a gay or lesbian person against their will, and he’d like to keep it that way.
Rep. Lynn Luker outlined a proposal Tuesday backed by his conservative Christian allies to shield religious people from the threat of losing their professional licenses for refusing service or employment to anyone they conclude violates their religious beliefs.
“This is pre-emptive,” said Luker, a Boise Republican. “The issue is coming, whether it’s 10 years, or 15 years, or two years.”
Idaho requires professional licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, attorneys, social workers, firefighters, police officers, real estate agents, and insurance providers.
He cited efforts by LGBT activists in other states to end discrimination against them – including two cases where same-sex couples in Oregon and New Mexico were denied service at a bakery for their wedding cake or wedding photographs – as his motivation to act quickly in Idaho.
Unlike those two states, Idaho’s Human Rights Act offers no protections for LGBT people, and Republican lawmakers have resisted efforts to include them.
The Cornerstone Family Council is backing Luker’s proposal, which is now awaiting a full hearing, to prevent the state from passing laws to block people from “living out their faith.”
“The free expression of religious freedom is no longer understood for what it was intended,” said Julie Lynde, executive director of the conservative Christian group associated with Focus on the Family. “There’s a double standard against people of traditional religious faiths.”
The Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses oversees 29 boards that issue licenses in a variety of fields.
If Luker’s proposal is passed into law, it would prevent the bureau or boards from revoking the license of any professional who declined “to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
However, Luker noted, emergency personnel couldn’t refuse to treat someone and does not authorize the “the intentional infliction of emotional or physical injury.”
He also added that the measure protects only an individual’s license, and that employers would not be prohibited from firing workers who violated workplace policies.
A spokeswoman for the state’s American Civil Liberties Union said she couldn’t think of any previous issues this bill would address.
“This is a solution searching for a problem,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of ACLU of Idaho.
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