Montana governor signs bill allowing residents to challenge regulations on religious grounds
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation into law on Thursday that allows individuals to challenge government regulations that infringe on their religious beliefs.
The bill, dubbed the “Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” requires the government to present a compelling reason to violate an individual’s freedom of religion, and to achieve its goals in the least restrictive method possible.
“The governor signed SB215 into law to protect the freedom of people of all faiths to exercise their sincerely held religious beliefs,” a spokesperson for Gianforte’s office said Thursday, according to the Montana Standard.
“Montana joins 21 other states with RFRA laws, where it has historically been used to allow Native American children to wear braids in school, Sikhs to wear turbans in the military, and Christian employers to refuse to cover abortions under their health insurance policies,” the spokesperson continued.
The legislation cleared the state Senate last month in a 26-24 vote after a third reading of the bill. Earlier this month, the Montana House passed the bill, voting 59-38 after a third reading.
Opponents of the new law say it will permit businesses to challenge ordinances in cities that have local laws that forbid discrimination in housing or employment situations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to The Associated Press.
“This (law) allows individuals to turn the shield of religious freedom we all hold dear into a weapon to attack LGBTQ and Indigenous Montanans,” said Shawn Reagor, director of Equality and Economic Justice with the Montana Human Rights Network, according to the AP.
“It goes against the live-and-let-live values we hold as a state, recent court rulings, and the ordinances of five Montana cities and counties,” Reagor continued.
Last month, however, Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras (R) told the House Judiciary Committee that Gianforte backed the bill and “emphasizes this is not a license to discriminate against the LGBT,” the AP reported.
Montana now joins a coalition of 21 states that have their own religious freedom restoration acts, according to the wire service.
In 1993, former President Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows individuals to challenge federal regulations that interfere with religious beliefs.
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