A bill recently introduced in the Oklahoma House by Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, has undergone a major overhaul, following Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of similar legislation in that state.
In its original form, Oklahoma House Bill 2873, known as the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, would allow Oklahoma business owners to refuse service based on “a person’s sincerely held religious belief,” and “a person [business owner] whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, in violation of the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act may assert such violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding ...”
The Arizona measure, Senate Bill 1062, came under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign as being discriminatory against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community.
Brewer vetoed the legislation Feb. 26. The day before, Oklahoma House members reconsidered its own measure, and completely reworked the wording.
Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, explained the process under which the legislation was amended.
“While HB 2873 was awaiting a hearing in committee in Oklahoma, the Arizona legislation was receiving national criticism and was eventually vetoed by their governor,” said Brown. “When HB 2873 came up for a committee hearing, it was replaced with a committee substitute. Deleting all the language in a bill and replacing it with unrelated language is referred to as ‘shucking.’ House Bill 2873 was introduced in Title 70; the substitute is in Title 51.”
The amended act, or committee substitution, would “prohibit certain public institutions of higher education from substantially burdening a student’s exercise of religion...” which, is wholly unrelated to the text of the original legislation.
Brown said the House leadership is ignoring its own rules in substituting language moving it from one title to another.
“House rules, in the past, have required new language inserted in a bill to be in the same title,” said Brown. “Since this rule prohibited the ‘shucking’ of the bill, leadership simply changed or ignored the House rule. Additionally, the current rules doe not allow members the opportunity to question whether or not the new language is germane to the original bill. It has become the new norm. When a House rule is inconvenient for leadership, they simply change it.”
Brown said the new text, and the bill overall, is yet another piece of unnecessary legislation that takes up time at the statehouse.
“Since [a student’s exercise of religion’ is already protected by law, I do not see any impact from this bill,” said Brown.
David Moore, executive director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce, believes current law provides protection for business owners based on their religious views.
“Additional laws that promote ‘discrimination’ probably are not needed, but I do believe in every business owner’s right to serve, or not serve, anyone,” said Moore. “If the person seeking service is denied it, he or she always has a right to go to a competitior.”
The Daily Press, in its Saturday online Facebook forum, asked readers’ opinions of the original bill, asking them how they felt about businesses being able to refuse service based on religious preferences.
Local resident Olga Hoenes said Tahlequah has weightier issues that should draw concern.
“Let people be people,” said Hoenes. “We have bad things to worry about, not things like this. Geez. Let’s get rid of the meth-makers or others who are killing our kids,” she said.
Cecila Owens-Sadler echoed Hoenes’ comments.
“Why are [legislators] worried about gay [people]? Why not kick out sex offenders or murderers and child abusers?” asked Owens-Sadler.
Tracie Vance believes business owners would oppose such legislation.
“Any business owner [who] mixes their politics or religion in with their business won’t be around long enough to turn anyone away,” said Vance. “Business [owners] are not the ones wanting these laws, it’s their legislators.”
B.J. Foreman believes the topic is ludicrous, as there is no way to “know” someone is gay without asking.
“Do business owners profile, ask, believe rumors or check by physical or intimate contact?” asked Foreman. “What an idiotic thought. How in the hell will anyone enforce a bill like that? Why waste taxpayer money. Serve the public, business owners and legislators. Serve the public.”
Jeremy Bell pointed out businesses, as a general rule, reserve the right to refuse service.
“Why not [ask] the question of keeping government out of the private business? If a business wants to deny a person for whatever reason, then let them,” said Bell. “However, the question then becomes when does one’s right secede another’s right?”
Allen Seabolt agreed with Bell.
“If I’m a contractor and someone offers me a job to paint a house and I turn it down for whatever reason, should the government be allowed to force me to paint their house?” asked Seabolt. “Why not just say we don’t have minds and can’t think or make decisions for ourselves, so we’ll do whatever [the government] tells us to. When I was younger, there used to be signs that said, ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.’ Nobody complained back then.”
To read the results of an online poll about House Bill 2873, visit www.tahlequahTDP.com.