Cegavske introduces Religious Freedom Act; called discriminatory in other states

CARSON CITY — State Sen. Barbara Cegavske introduced the Religious Freedom Act on Tuesday, a bill that in other states has been criticized for allowing people to discriminate against gays and lesbians because their religions oppose homosexuality.

Cegavske and Sen. Mark Hutchison, both R-Las Vegas, said Senate Bill 192 was designed to make sure governments cannot “burden” the free exercise of religion. Twenty-seven states have passed similar bills. The two legislators, however, made no mention of the law affecting gays or abortion.

Yet a search of the Internet shows that a similar bill was rejected in Colorado earlier this month along party lines in part because opponents thought it would legalize discrimination against gays in the name of religion.

In one instance, a photographer was fined because he would not take photos at a lesbian marriage.

In Utah this month, a legislator introduced a bill to allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions based on religious and moral reasons.

In Kansas last month, legislators amended their religious freedom act in response to concerns by gays that it could be used by an apartment owner to refuse to rent to gays or lesbians.

In Nevada, state laws forbid discrimination against gay and transgender people in housing and public accommodations.

Although asked repeatedly by reporters, Cegavske could not give examples of a Nevadan facing discrimination because of government actions.

Cegavske later emailed a statement from a Kansas legislator who contended that a 1993 federal religious law backed by both political parties protected people from federal laws that hampered their exercise of religion but added that the same protection did not apply to state or local governments.

In the bill, a person who believes his or her exercise of religion has been “substantially burdened” by a government may go to court to seek relief, including costs and attorneys fees.

Hutchison said he was concerned about the lack of religious tolerance shown by people in recent years, particularly during the presidential election.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as is Hutchison. But Hutchison said Scientologists have as much right to tolerance in the exercise of religion as Mormons do.

Hutchison acknowledged that people have the First Amendment right to criticize religions.

Cegavske said the bill was necessary to prevent future government interference in religion in Nevada.

While prison inmates have sued the state over the right to practice Native American religion — which in some instances includes the use of peyote — Cegavske said that was not the purpose of her bill.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.