Update, March 8 (from the Michigan Catholic Conference):
The Michigan House of Representatives voted today to amend the state’s civil rights act that will likely create a right to target religious organizations for their teachings, beliefs and practices related to traditional marriage and biological gender differences, Michigan Catholic Conference stated after the vote. The legislation, Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 4003, adds “sexual identity, gender identity and expression” to the state’s civil rights act while failing to include protections for religious organizations that provide humanitarian services and assistance to the general public, especially the poor and needy.
“Today, a majority of the Michigan House voted to intentionally deny essential protections for religious institutions in the state’s civil rights code. As a result, discrimination and targeted litigation toward faith-based institutions is highly likely,” said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson. “We are disappointed that the House did not include language to protect religious organizations from discrimination even though every state in the country has done so when amending their civil rights laws.”
Michigan Catholic Conference has worked over the past month with members of differing religious faiths and denominations to encourage legislators to protect from discrimination and legal liability those who teach and believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that men and women are biologically different from one another. Driven by their religious belief to love both God and neighbor, Catholics and other religious traditions act on their faith-based teaching to serve others in the areas of social services, education, and charitable exercises, among others. Such services are primarily provided to citizens – regardless of their faith or classification – who are in need, vulnerable or destitute.
To date, over 8,000 messages have been sent to Michigan lawmakers from Catholics across the state encouraging support for religious protections. MCC, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, and Citizens for Traditional Values have encouraged supporters to contact their elected officials and have engaged in media activity to urge protections for religious organizations.
Michigan Catholic Conference believes that failing to include religious protections in Senate Bill 4 or House Bill 4003 will:
• Lead to a new class of discrimination against people and organizations of faith,
• Encourage targeting of faith-based social service, educational and charitable organizations, and
• Force small non-profit/religious organizations into lengthy litigation in state courts.
“While it is clear that Governor Whitmer will sign the legislation into law, we believe it is necessary to state that this policy fails to protect all citizens from discrimination and will likely prompt greater scrutiny through the lens of the First Amendment,” said Hickson.
Senate Bill 4 passed the full House of Representatives today 64-45 after it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier in the day. The bill will now head to the Governor’s office for her signature. House Bill 4003 also passed the full House today 64-45 after being passed by the same House Judiciary Committee.
Update, March 1:
The Michigan Senate voted 23-15 to pass legislation that adds new categories to the state’s civil rights law without an amendment that protects religious organizations from discrimination. For weeks Michigan Catholic Conference and other faith-based organizations have urged Senate members to protect religious organizations from discrimination claims and litigation when adding sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Senate Bill 4 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. Write your representative using this message and ask them to add reasonable language to provide religious protections in Senate Bill 4 to respect the rights and beliefs of the faithful and to avoid lengthy litigation over First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 4 is legislation to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to prohibited forms of discrimination. However, the bill provides no protection from discrimination for faith-based organizations that believe marriage is between one man or one woman or that men and women are biologically different.
This would create scenarios where faith-based institutions that hold these beliefs would be faced with either hiring a job applicant who does not hold to those beliefs, or refusing to hire that job applicant and then be held liable for discrimination. The same issue could occur in areas such as in housing and accommodation.
Every state that has expanded its civil rights law to include new classes of protected people has also included religious protections. Michigan would be the first to not include religious protections if Senate Bill 4 is approved as is.
Read more below from the Michigan Catholic Conference, or visit their website.
February 9, 2023
Every State That Has Amended Anti-Discrimination Law Has Included Religious Protections
(Lansing, Mich.) – Earlier this afternoon the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee passed legislation that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the list of protected classes in Michigan’s civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Prior to the committee passing Senate Bill 4, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson urged the committee to include protections for religious organizations and offered to work with members on finding common ground on language to do so. Hickson commented after the committee:
“Every state that has amended its anti-discrimination law – 22 of them, and also the District of Columbia – has included protections for religious organizations. Unfortunately, Michigan appears to be going in an opposite and unprecedented direction. All people, regardless of their orientation or classification, are children of God and should be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. We acknowledge the passion that is part of this conversation and the work that has gone into today’s committee action.
“We strongly believe Michigan should include protections for religious organizations in Senate Bill 4 to avoid faith-based organizations, particularly those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman, from being targeted for litigation. We will try to find common ground on this topic. We have offered an olive branch to supporters of Senate Bill 4 and look forward to continued conversation on the Senate floor.”
Vice President, Communications
Michigan Catholic Conference
Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state. Led by a Board of Directors that includes the Catholic bishops in Michigan, MCC promotes a social order that respects human life and dignity and serves the common good through public policy advocacy.