Iowa Senate Chamber
Photo Credit: Samir Luther (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Iowa’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) survived the first funnel week of the 2018 legislative session. SSB 3171, sponsored by State Senator Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) was passed out of the Iowa Senate Local Government Committee by a 7 to 4 vote Wednesday evening.

The bill seeks to “restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and to guarantee its application in all cases where the free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action.”

The bill is meant to be interpreted as consistent with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 that was passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.

The goal is to ensure that Iowan’s religious freedom and right to conscience is protected and to give Iowans a defense should those rights be infringed by the state.

The bill reads:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to that person’s exercise of religion is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

It states the recourse Iowans should have if the state takes such action:

A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened in violation of this chapter may assert such violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding and obtain appropriate relief.

The law applies to action take by state and local government.

The House version of the bill, HF 2209, sponsored by State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) and co-sponsored by State Representatives Larry Sheets (R-Moulton), Andy McKean (R-Anamosa), John Landon (R-Ankeny), Terry Baxter (R-Garner), Dean Fisher (R-Montour), Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City), Ralph Watts (R-Adel), Kristi Hager (R-Waukon), Greg Heartsill (R-Chariton), Steven Holt (R-Denison), Stan Gustafson (R-Cumming), Tom Moore (R-Griswold), Tedd Gassman (R-Scarville), Jon Jacobsen (R-Council Bluffs), John Wills (R-Spirit Lake), Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), Kevin Koester (R-Ankeny), Shannon Lundgren (R-Peosta), Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr), Ken Rizer (R-Cedar Rapids), David Kerr (R-Morning Sun), and Rob Bacon (R-Slater) did not move in the House Judiciary Committee, possibly in anticipation of the Senate version.

SF 2154, an identical version of SSB 3171 was sponsored by State Senator Dennis Guth (R-Klemme) was filed earlier and assigned to the State Government Committee. That bill was sponsored by State Senators Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City), Jake Chapman (R-Adel), Mark Costello (R-Imogene), Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Garrett, Jeff Elder (R-State Center), Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City), Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Ft. Dodge), Craig Johnson (R-Independence), Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Mark Lofgren (R-Muscatine), Thomas Greene (R-Burlington), Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway), and Waylon Brown (R-St. Ansgar).

On Monday, a subcommitee consisting of State Senators Guth, Garrettt, and Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) voted 2 to 1 to recommend passage with Hogg being the dissenting vote.

In Wednesday’s commitee meeting State Senators Garrett, Lofgren, Chelgren, Greene, Guth, Kraayenbrink, and Mark Segebart (R-Vail) voted in favor of RFRA. State Senators Hogg, Chaz Allen (D-Newton), Mattt McCoy (D-Des Moines), and Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) voted against the bill.

State Senator Guth is the assigned floor manager when RFRA comes up for debate on the Iowa Senate floor.

Liberal activist groups, the religious left, and corprote interests have lined up against the bill. The Family Planning Council of Iowa, Meredith Corporation, Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Travel Federation of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, Iowa Association of Businees and Industry, Amazon, Iowa Business Council, Federation of Iowa Insurers, Iowa Safe Schools, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Google, Facebook, Human Rights Campaign, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, Wellmark, Microsoft, Ames Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Chamber Alliance, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Principal Financial Group, ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, One Iowa Action, and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.

Concerned Women for America of Iowa, Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, The FAMiLY Leader, and the Iowa Catholic Conference support the measure.

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