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Utah GrassRoots 2015 Legislative Report Addendum—SB296
SB296, “Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Urquhart, Senator Adams, and Representative Dee, modifies definition provisions related to employment and housing discrimination, including:
It is also noteworthy that, under pre-existing antidiscrimination code, smaller employers (with less than 15 employees) would be exempt from the employment provisions of SB296.
GrassRoots Concerns with SB296
We have several concerns with SB296.
We are concerned that SB296 may further infringe on the unalienable right of individuals to exercise control of their property, contrary to the original intent of various constitutional provisions:
We are aware that there are differing views on what constitutes, or should constitute, lawful use of property. But if we are careless about respecting property rights, then rights of religious and other liberties are immediately vulnerable. It seems to us impossible to trample on property rights and preserve religious liberties.
How should we define lawful use of property? Governments have long been able to enforce (even if imperfectly) such standards as “Thou shalt not steal”, “Thou shalt not kill”, and “Thou shalt not lie” without trampling on unalienable rights. On the other hand, as important as is the commandment to “Love thy neighbor [probably without exceptions for race, religion, sexual orientation, or other factors] as thyself”, there is abundant reason to doubt the government’s ability to enforce it without infringing on unalienable rights. Fortunately, non-intrusive efforts by individuals, families, churches, and other associations to teach “Love thy neighbor as thyself” will not infringe on individual rights.
*We are concerned that, by exempting employers like religious societies, religious education institutions, the Boy Scouts of America, and smaller employers from various anti-discrimination requirements, SB296 may create further unequal treatment under the law, which may be contrary to our state constitution:
We think it is possible that the foundation belief behind this provision in our state constitution was a belief in the equality of men under the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . .” (Declaration of Independence).
We certainly do not want to interfere with discriminatory hiring decisions by the Boy Scouts of America or by Brigham Young University. If, according to their faith, that is appropriate discrimination, then that should be their decision. But why should we treat “religious institutions” and the Boy Scouts of America different from other people (including business owners), partnerships, and associations that have faith? Is freedom of conscience and religious liberty only important to “religious institutions” and the Boy Scouts of America?
*We are also concerned that evidence and due process standards in pre-existing anti-discrimination code are inadequate. For instance, we are concerned about the following wording in Utah Code:
“[I]f the director, presiding officer, commissioner, Appeals Board, or court finds reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, the director, presiding officer, commissioner, Appeals Board, or court may order, as considered appropriate: (a) the respondent to cease any discriminatory housing practice; (b) actual damages, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to the aggrieved person; and (c) any permanent or temporary injunction, temporary restraining order, or other appropriate order” (Utah Code Section 57-21-11(1)).
Is “reasonable cause to believe” a good enough standard of evidence before this kind of administrative or judicial force kicks in? Or should the standard be raised to at least “a preponderance of the evidence”? If evidence and due process standards in existing anti-discrimination code are inadequate, then we should not be expanding the scope of this code.
We believe that SB296 infringes on property rights, increases unequal treatment under the law, and violates the letter and original intent of our state and national constitutions. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB296.
SB296 passed the Senate 23-5 on March 6th, passed the House 65-10 on March 11th, and was signed by the Governor.
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