House Stalls Christensen’s Religious Liberty Bill

At least for now, Rep. LaVar Christensen’s religious freedom bill will sit in House Rules Committee.

HB322 is a broad-reaching bill that some argue would give individuals and groups too much authority to discriminate against a myriad of other folks and groups.

Christensen, R-Draper, of course disagrees with that, saying it would actually defend the rights of all persons – including gays and lesbians – from all kinds of organized discrimination.

However, HB322 as written does not mention gays and lesbians at all – a distinction that homosexual rights groups desire.

House leaders have told UtahPolicy that HB322 will not go forward under its current language.

Indeed, while several House Republicans are meeting with senators, including Sens. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, Christensen is not mentioned as one of those negotiators.

Friday, HB322 was on the Rules list to come out and be assigned to the House Standing Judiciary Committee – a committee that Christensen chairs.

Assurances were made in Rules that Christensen would hold his own HB322 in Judiciary until some negotiations with the Senate on what to do with religious freedom legislation are decided.

But after some quick discussion the motion was made to pull HB322 from the list – and so for now Christensen will not have control of his own religious liberty bill and it will remain in the House Rules committee.

Last Monday, House leaders said that by the end of this week it was believed the House and Senate negotiators on Urquhart’s SB100 – the gay and lesbian anti-discrimination bill in housing and employment – and religious freedom language would be ready.

Now that compromise is supposed to come on next Monday – perhaps with more work over the weekend.

It is still unclear if the gay and lesbian anti-discrimination AND religious liberty will be in one bill, or separated into two bills.

It has generally been agreed that whether there is one bill or two bills, the anti-discrimination against gays and lesbians and religious freedom issues will either both pass this session, or both will fail.

While optimistic, several GOP leaders have told UtahPolicy that because the religious freedom language is so amorphous, so vague, that some groups – including gay and lesbian advocates – worry that whatever gains can be made in housing and employment gay protections, a bill ultimately could result in discrimination raising its ugly head in many other areas – even if lawmakers don’t want that at all.

“We can move (HB322) out Monday, if we wish, and it still will be able to make committee” hearings, as negotiations go forward, said House Rules Committee Chair Mike Noel, R-Kanab.