There’s Plenty of Reasons to Oppose SB 296

When you think about the biggest bills on the hill this session, the proposed non-discrimination law must immediately come to mind. This year’s incarnation has been making big waves since the LDS Church threw its weight behind it (ironically, I might add, without the cries of “separation of church and state” from the usual suspects). Even though it attempts to find a middle ground on the issue, it’s still a highly problematic bill fraught with pitfalls. I don’t think it should be passed, particularly in its current form.

Reading the bill gives you an idea of how awkwardly it was cobbled together. The carve-outs for BYU approved housing and the Boy Scouts (who are, in fact, named) leave me wondering if the bill can stand legal review as improperly favoring specific groups. It’s also curious to see religious exemptions created for organizations but not individuals. Freedom of religion is commonly understood as an individual right that can be exercised collectively. This is what provides First Amendment protection to atheists and agnostics. It begs the question as to if other groups can petition that they should have received an exception as well. We’re setting a dangerous precedent that only organized religion will be recognized and receive constitutional protections, a scenario that the Framers (many of whom deeply distrusted organized religion) would not have intended.

The biggest problem, however, is that there doesn’t appear to be a problem to be solved. As much as we hear anecdotes about how widespread discrimination is on the basis of sexual orientation, the hard data shows a scant three complaints over four years in cities with anti-discrimination ordinances. Even worse, none of those cases could be substantiated. While every law will have a false-positive rate, hitting 100% is absolutely astounding. With that high level, are we simply creating a big payday for lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits and get generous settlements? It would certainly appear to be the case.

Even though my church supports this bill as written, I cannot. I think it is too fraught with uncertainties and based on too much speculation to be sound legislation.

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