Religious Freedom Act: Bell defends; ACLU, Chamber of Commerce oppose

Both the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and the Amercian Civil Liberties Union are opposing the “Religious Freedom Act,” now sponsored by two East Tennessee legislators, reports the News Sentinel.

The proposed state law “is clearly written to target LGBT couples,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said Friday that the so-called Religious Freedom Act he sponsored with Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn would protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse business with certain groups.

Weinberg said the bill discriminates against homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Bell disagreed.

“I think it’s happening, but it’s happening the other way, by the government, through the courts,” Bell said. “The courts are discriminating against people of faith who have deeply held convictions.”

Gay marriage bans have been turned over in other states. On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Tennessee does not issue such wedding licenses.

“I feel that it’s a matter of time before Tennessee’s (ban) is struck down,” Bell said.

The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has lobbied against Senate Bill 2566 and House Bill 2467. Senate is expected to review the legislation Tuesday.
“This is based on intolerance and fear,” Weinberg said Friday.

…Late Thursday the initial senate sponsor, Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, dropped his support. Bell, a Republican, picked up the sponsorship.

…“This is about protecting the religious beliefs of the business owners, not about ‘no gays here’,” Bell said. “It doesn’t have racial overtones.”

Bell plans to introduce an amendment next week that would limit the focus of the legislation to only wedding-related services.

Some local religious leaders have said the proposal is inconsistent with their beliefs, beyond wedding services.

“When somebody else’s rights are in jeopardy or questioned, that’s a form of intolerance,” Rabbi Mathew A. Michaels of Knoxville’s Temple Beth El said. “I would not be in support of it, no.”
,,,,Resistance to the bill spread beyond local religious leaders.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry said the bill does not fit with its business sense.

“This is not something that we initiated, nor is it something that we necessarily believe in,” said Renuka Christoph, marketing and communications director for the state chamber. “We are very nondiscriminatory.