Legislators are considering a “religious freedom” bill that supporters say would put religious protections into state law, but others say would open the door to discrimination.
Anyone who can prove that their religious “free exercise right has been violated” would be allowed to collect attorneys’ fees and costs, according to the text of the bill. It would not allow discrimination of any “protected class” recognized by law.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a work session on the bill during a hearing in Burien on Wednesday.
Steve McFarland, the chief legal officer of World Vision, testified in support of the bill. He said 18 other states have adopted similar legislation and it has benefited non-Christians as well as Christians.
McFarland said the law would put the burden of proof on the religious person, who must show that they are acting in a way that’s motivated by a “sincerely held religious belief.”
Democratic Sen. Jean Kohl-Welles said the bill could result in discrimination, especially without a clear legal standard of a “sincerely held religious belief.”
“I’m very worried about this being used for discrimination,” Kohl-Welles said.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, questioned whether the law would allow someone with religious beliefs to “trump” the rights of another. He pointed to the Arlene’s Flowers case, in which a Richland florist refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
McFarland said he didn’t know if the bill would impact the Arlene’s Flowers case, but said it would “guarantee a weighing of rights.”
Republican Sen. Mike Padden described the bill as the “religious freedom restoration act” in a press release. He said it was necessary to protect the rights of religious organizations that conduct activities in the “public square,” such as a baptisms performed in a city park.
TVW taped the hearing — watch it online here.