How Ohio Benefits from a Religious Freedom Bill

How do supporters of same-sex marriage, abortion advocates, and–more neutrally–civil rights advocates in Ohio view the Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act, H.B. 376, just introduced in the Ohio General Assembly? This is a curious question in view of recent events.

The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all Americans, yet threats to that freedom have been coming at people of faith fast and furious in recent years.

From restrictions on prayers in public venues, to religious displays, to mandates to support immoral practices, Christians especially have been dodging bullets just to be able to live out their values in daily life.

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Many believe the left is determined through harassment lawsuits and activist courts to confine faith freedom to a house of worship a few hours a week, and otherwise, to enable governments, employers, schools and other institutions to dictate what citizens can and cannot do regarding religious expression or values. Restricting when/where/how to pray, displays of nativity scenes or other religious symbols, what services or products your business can/cannot provide, and where/how religious topics can be discussed are all on the secular wish list for a utopian America.

These same institutions, under the liberal ideal, will be allowed to tell citizens what they must support through speech, policy or with private  or taxpayer funding, including abortion, contraception, the “morning-after pill,” sterilization, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality-affirming speech and expression. Business owners, employees, parents, and teachers who have values that conflict with these practices are to be defined into a new category called “bigot.”

If you as the head of your company do not offer all the array of life-ending “reproductive health” services, you are worse than negligent. You will be accused of waging a “war on women.”

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Citizens may also be compelled to honor the public expressions of faith for religions other than their own, while not given an equivalent opportunity. If your public swimming pool has limited hours because of sharia-compliant swim time for Muslim women only, there’s not a “make-up” day for people of other faiths.

Proposed: The Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

Two Ohio representatives, Tim Derickson ( R-Oxford) and Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland), have introduced the Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and it will resemble the federal RFRA signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, passed to prevent substantial burdens on a person’s free exercise of religion.

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As the federal bill did, the Ohio RFRA would restore “strict scrutiny” in the weighing of individual rights vs. compelling state interest. Seventeen other states have passed similar laws.  Is there a compelling state interest in removing a picture of Jesus from a hallway, for instance, as a school in Jackson, Ohio was forced to do recently?

The school agreed to remove the portrait, which had graced one of its walls for sixty years, after a suit by a Wisconsin atheist group, Freedom from Religion Foundation, joined by the ACLU. The school also agreed to pay a $95,000 settlement fee. An Ohio RFRA law might help conflicts like this come to resolution in a way that brings some common sense to the table. Why couldn’t those who wanted the portrait to remain have their beliefs honored? What’s the compelling government interest in removing such a picture? And what harm was it doing?

Then there is the hot button issue of freedom to oppose abortion and/or homosexuality. The case of Crystal Dixon and the University of Toledo is illustrative. Dixon, a professing Christian, was fired in 2008 after six years of steady advancement in the human resources division, serving finally as interim associate vice president for human resources over all University campuses.  What prompted her downfall? Simply writing a letter to the editor of the Toledo Free Press on a Sunday, on her home computer, expressing disagreement with an editorial that homosexuality is the equivalent of race. Dixon is African-American.

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Dixon did not write in her capacity as an officer of UT, nor did she identify herself as a staff member. Dixon had been open about her Christian faith on the job and was even commended by her superiors for never letting her faith interfere with the performance of her duties. But UT has a “non-discrimination” policy which includes “sexual orientation.” So a federal district court ruled that Dixon’s firing was appropriate because the university’s policy on diversity trumped Dixon’s First Amendment rights. The 6th Circuit let the ruling stand.

Would a strong Ohio RFRA law have made a difference to Crystal Dixon? She has not been able to obtain a comparable job, so she paid a heavy professional and personal price for this ruling.

But let’s return to the Ohio marriage question. The initiative being proposed, possibly for the 2014 ballot, would allow two adults of any gender to marry. It also expressly gives freedom of religion to those churches that do not wish to perform same-sex marriages.

Conservatives in Ohio are determined not to allow such a marriage deconstruction to occur, but just for the record, what position will Equality Ohio and Freedom to Marry, the interested groups behind the anti-marriage campaign, take on the Ohio RFRA? Surely they should be in favor of such a law, since religious freedom is part of their positioning strategy.

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On the abortion question, Ohio company owners who are Christians, Jews, or Muslims don’t want to offer abortion-inducing drugs or sterilization services in insurance policies as mandated by ObamaCare. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases dealing with this question. Would a strong state RFRA law be a protective measure in such situations?

With the bipartisan, wide support for this law, it has an excellent chance of passage. Yet it will be interesting to see which groups and interests line up against it, if any. Contending against a clear constitutional right, however, is only for the most radical.


Linda Harvey is president and founder of Mission America and host of a radio talk show 880 AM WRFD (Columbus). She holds a B.A. in English from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and has done graduate work at Miami, Ohio State University, and Trinity Lutheran Seminary. She is the wife of Tom Harvey and the mother of two children. They live in Columbus, Ohio.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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