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Stopping the Spread of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts

May Newsletter
May 26, 2015
Bend the Arc

Carolina Jews for Justice members at the National Gathering in March 2015In the run up to what is expected to be a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in June on marriage equality, several states are seeking to keep discrimination alive by passing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) that would allow business owners to refuse service to the LGBTQ community. The ramifications of such laws are far-reaching, and set a dangerous precedent that could also legalize discrimination on the basis of race or gender.

The good news? Bend the Arc and its allies have been successful in statewide efforts that saw the implementation of RFRAs fail.

The first success was in North Carolina, where Bend the Arc affiliate Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) was instrumental in turning back an introduced RFRA. CJJ partnered with other local progressive groups to pressure local lawmakers to change their votes on RFRA from “yes” to “no”. In addition, an open letter from the Jewish community, signed by more than 200 rabbis, business leaders, and community representatives was hand-delivered to every legislative office at the state capitol. In a dramatic turn of events, CJJ leaders also managed to convince one co-sponsor of the Bill to remove his name after they made it clear that the Jewish community would strongly oppose any official that supported discriminatory legislation.

In Louisiana, the proposed RFRA, titled The Marriage and Conscience Act, looked to not only provide allowance for discriminatory practices, but also protect discriminating businesses from government sanctions. Bend the Arc leaders in New Orleans quickly mobilized the local Jewish community to take action against the Bill. On May 19th, the Marriage and Conscience Act was voted down by a Louisiana House Committee 10-2, effectively killing the measure.

Despite these successes, it’s now clear that the time leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision (and perhaps after, too) will be filled with increasingly alarming attempts to pass laws that deny equal rights to all. Already, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has issued an executive order to bypass the legislature’s defeat of The Marriage and Conscience Act. We at Bend the Arc are committed to fighting these efforts to legalize discrimination, and working towards a society where all are afforded the same basic rights.