We enjoy hosting visitors from District 63
and from around Iowa:
Homeschool Day at the Capitol
Home educator Jill Oppman and her son Tyler came to Des Moines to attend Homeschool Day on the Hill and to visit about education issues.
The New Debate: Religious Liberty
Political leaders in Indiana substantially weakened their newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in response to an onslaught of unfounded and misleading criticism from several big corporations and a few special interest groups. It had passed both their House and Senate with substantial support and Governor Mike Pence had signed the bill. Indiana is now one of 20 states which have some form of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, although weakened. The Arkansas legislature passed similar legislation, a stronger RFRA than Indiana’s, and Governor Asa Hutchinson signed it into law. That would make Arkansas the 21st state with a RFRA.
Indiana’s RFRA is similar to the federal RFRA and RFRA laws passed by other states. A Religious Freedom Restoration Act sets the standard the government must meet before it can interfere with a person’s free exercise of religion under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It prohibits the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion, unless the government can demonstrate that the burden 1) furthers a compelling government interest and 2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling government interest. The law also provides a person can assert a claim or defense, that is, a person can bring a lawsuit, against the government for a violation of this act. It does not apply to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved. In other words, a person cannot sue another person under this act, but they can sue the government under it.
More from Homeschool
Homeschoolers Nathan and Hannah Lehman with their mom Jenny also took part in the activities provided: advocating with legislators, touring the Capitol, and hearing many informative speakers.
Here is some background on this legislation: The Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1990 that made it easier for the government to infringe on religious liberty. In response to this ruling, in 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and the Senate. At its signing Vice President Al Gore said, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is something that every American can support.” This act returned the courts to the standard that had been in place for decades that the government would have to meet before it could interfere with a person’s free exercise of religion.
In 1997, the United States Supreme Court determined that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply to the states, but only to the federal government. After that ruling, many states immediately passed their own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As of today, the following states have laws similar to the federal law: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia. Iowa does not have a RFRA.
Congressman Rod Blum Visits
First District Congressman Rod Blum said he was happy to be out of Washington, D.C. for awhile and back in America!
This legislation, and others like it, aims to flesh out the meaning of the 1st Amendment by balancing the right of the people to practice their faith against the interest of the government. A RFRA gives courts a tried-and-true balancing test for weighing a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs against legitimate government interests. RFRA’s do not dictate outcomes. But they will protect people with sincerely-held religious beliefs from over-intrusive government regulation burdening their religious practice, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape having to follow general laws. This law is an impartial referee that equalizes the playing field and reduces the power of government over the lives and the minds of citizens. It doesn’t pre-determine winners and losers but ensures that freedom gets a fair hearing.
A review of case law on the free exercise of religion going back decades clearly shows its benefit to people of all faiths as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences in the face of ever more intrusive government. Here are a couple examples of how this law has been used. In 2014, a unanimous Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the seizure of eagle feathers from Native American religious leader, Robert Soto, was a violation of Soto’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Additionally, in 2012 a RFRA from Pennsylvania ensured a group of churches were able to continue feeding the homeless in a city park. A court determined that the church program was an exercise of religion and a law banning feeding of more than 3 people in a city park unduly infringed upon the churches’ religious freedom.
Presidential Candidates at the Capitol
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was in the Capitol Rotunda meeting and greeting as many as he could! My clerk Susan Foster is with us.
Some are saying this bill is a “license to discriminate” and that is simply not true. The federal RFRA and many states’ RFRA laws have been on the books for many years and have never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country. When asked, opponents of this law cannot cite any examples of where it has been abused.
Disputes cropping up all across the country and in Iowa as well highlight the need for a RFRA in our state. We have real people whose freedoms and livelihoods have been threatened. These people are not discriminating against anyone in conducting their businesses and indeed have not been doing so. But when it comes to an arrangement requiring a business to affirm, participate in, or celebrate an activity/event/idea that violates their faith or that they are morally opposed to they should not be required by government to do that. This has nothing to do with any type of person or the characteristic of a person. These businesses have had no problem with selling goods and services to anyone as long as it does not involve an activity that violates their faith.
More from the Presidential Candidates
Former Senator Rick Santorum visited with a group of legislators and outlined the important issues facing the nation.
In Grimes, Richard and Betty Odgaard, a Mennonite couple who own the Gortz Haus Gallery, a wedding services venue, faced pressure from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission for declining to host a same-sex wedding ceremony, which violates their Christian faith. This couple lost thousands of dollars in an out-of-court settlement and is struggling to stay in business for sticking to their beliefs. They have even received hate mail and threatening phone calls.
In Huxley, Victoria Childress, owner of Victoria’s Cake Cottage, was boycotted, called names, and received hate mail for declining to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding, something that is against her Christian beliefs. No complaint has been filed with the state as of this writing.
Should a Jewish baker be compelled to make a cake with a swastika? Should a Muslim printer be forced to print flyers with Charlie Hebdo cartoons ridiculing the prophet Mohammed? No, of course not. Because those activities violate their faith. Neither should a Christian be required by the government to participate in activities such as a same-sex wedding that violates their faith. Surrendering your faith should never be the price of doing business.
And More Yet….
Senator Santorum visiting with Rep. Steve Holt, Rep. John Wills, and myself.
One side in this debate believes that Americans should have more freedom and the government shouldn’t be able to punish citizens for exercising their freedom. The other side in this debate wants government to have more power and to be able to punish citizens for merely exercising their basic freedoms.
Iowa does not have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act and we need one. As Iowans we need to reinforce our first and most basic freedom, the first one in the Bill of Rights, our First Amendment protection of religious liberty. Without this common sense protection of our conscience with respect to faith no other freedom is safe. What limits would there then be to what government can control if even your most basic freedom, that of your conscience, is not protected?
It's not just what you believe in your head. A citizen can hold any belief they want in between their ears. That “freedom” exists in totalitarian countries like North Korea. But one of the many things that makes America exceptional and is one of its contributions to the world is its protection of the free exercise of your faith, that is, the freedom to live out your religious beliefs in your day-to-day life, not just in your head or in one hour in church on Sunday. Our Founders believed this was a God-given right that no government could take away. Our nation was founded on this right by people who were searching for a place where they could have religious liberty. It's what our Founders handed down to us and as Iowans we prize this freedom and we should never let it go!
My New Grandson Arrives!
I became a grandma once again with the birth of Paul Walter Salmon to our son Peter and his wife Amy of Cedar Falls. Peter is an assistant pastor at Trinity Bible Church in Cedar Falls.
Feel free to contact me with ideas, thoughts, and concerns. My phone is 319-987-3021 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to hear what you are thinking and will listen to your input. Together we will work to make a difference for the future of Iowa. Thank you very much for the honor of representing you!