The Bulletin Board

‘Religious liberty’ bill amended to address discrimination concerns

By: - May 26, 2021 3:49 pm
A bible rests on a table with a cross necklace

The bill’s supporters were upset to see businesses like Home Depot and liquor stores remain open during the pandemic while attendance restrictions were placed on churches. (Getty Images)

An amended version of a “religious liberty” bill up for a Senate vote Thursday preserves a church’s right to stay open during a future state of emergency but eliminates what civil rights advocates said would allow for discrimination on religious grounds.

Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican and House Bill 542’s sponsor, supports the change. “The bill that was passed is far superior to the original bill that was filed in November,” he said. “The intent of the original one filed was to establish that churches are essential in a state of emergency. That’s what we got through, and it got improved in the process.”

The bill’s supporters were upset to see businesses like Home Depot and liquor stores remain open during the pandemic while attendance restrictions were placed on churches.

The bill that came to the Senate would have allowed churches to remain open, but also permit individuals, churches, corporations, and all other legal entities to exercise a right to practice religion without constraints by the government.

The religious liberty section removed by the committee had been flagged by the state Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit. In a May public hearing before the committee, Sean Locke, the unit’s director, said the bill “would allow secular businesses and secular service providers to cite religious beliefs and evade compliance with the state’s anti-discrimination laws, which provide protection from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and public education.” 

Religious leaders who testified at the hearing said that was not the intent. 

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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