Miami Legal Tips Blog

Florida and Religious Freedom

Supreme Court  OlderNot long after the firestorm erupted over the State of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics claimed would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and transgendered people, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was quoted as saying in a radio interview, “Florida has a law like this.”

Well, does it?

PolitiFact Florida decided to take a closer look. According to their report, the current debate over religious freedom laws dates back to the presidential days of Bill Clinton, who put his John Hancock on an item called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was meant to prevent the government from meddling in religious customs – such as whether Native Americans could utilize peyote in their rituals.

A few years later, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Act wasn’t applicable to individual states, which prompted some states to pass their own, similar statutes. One year before Bush was sworn in as the state’s chief executive, Florida passed its iteration of the Act.

As PoltiFact points out, Florida’s law says that “the government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” There’s nothing explicitly said about gay rights or same-sex nuptials; neither are those issues an express part of the Indiana statute.

At the time, the article explains, Florida officials were finding themselves using the law as it applied to religious protections for prisoners.

Fast forward 15-plus years and the context for Indiana’s religious freedoms law is different, what with various state courts taking up the issue of same-sex marriage, which the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule upon later this year. In addition, Indiana’s law can be used to protect religious liberties in controversies that don’t involve the government, such as those between two private parties. Florida’s law doesn’t have that provision. Plus, Indiana’s law gives protection to corporations, and Florida’s doesn’t.

One more point worth making: Neither Indiana nor Florida has yet taken action to do away with discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgendered people.

Maybe that’d be the better place to start when it comes to potential presidential candidates commenting about the laws in their respective states.

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