Iowa Senate passes religious freedom bill on 31-16 vote

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has passed a bill modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said court rulings have infringed on the free exercise of religion and the bill outlines how state courts are to decide cases in the future. “I am proud to do this and actually a little embarrassed it took so long to get to this point,” Schultz said, “along with 25 other states and the federal government.”

Thirty-one Republicans in the state senate voted for it, while the 16 Senate Democrats opposed it. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, said the bill would open the door to all sorts of discrimination. “I believe that bigotry dressed up in religious robes is still bigotry,” Quirmbach said.

Senator Jeff Taylor, a Republican from Sioux Center, said the bill makes it clear the Constitution is the law of the land. “The courts have eaten away at religious freedom nationally and that applies our state as well,” Taylor said. “This is a defensive mechanism, saying we need to prioritize the First Amendment.”

Senator Janice Weiner, a Democrat from Iowa City, said the bill lets people cite their religious beliefs as they pick and choose which laws to follow. “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has become a blank check for people to impose their religious beliefs on others and to discrimination against people they don’t like,” Weiner said, “that’s wrong.”

Weiner said it would allow pharmacists to cite their religious beliefs and refuse to dispense birth control or let property owners refuse to rent to same-sex couples. .

“I stand before you today as a queer woman and an Iowan,” Senator Liz Bennett, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said, “…and I am sick and tired of my community being the target of mean-spirited, discriminatory bills written by Republican politicians.”

Schultz, a Republican who’s served in the Iowa legislature since 2009, accused Democrats are being overly dramatic about the bill. “But fortunately Iowa has chosen this majority and we’re going to move in the correct direction,” Schultz said.

An identical version of the bill is eligible for debate in the Republican-led Iowa House. Business groups like the Iowa Chamber Alliance, Principal Financial Group and the Technology Association of Iowa are registered against the bill.