Ames Chamber Lobbies Against Anti-Gay “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”

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A week ago, the Ames Chamber of Commerce’s Statehouse lobbyist Drew Kamp declared the organization’s opposition to a bill that would allow businesses and schools to discriminate against transgender Iowans by preventing them from using restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.

When the Informer reported on the Chamber’s opposition to the bill, the organization had yet to take a position on a similar bill that we highlighted in our list of the most extreme legislative proposals introduced so far in the 2018 session: the deceptively labeled Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would give businesses increased legal cover for “any action that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”

But on Wednesday evening, Kamp declared the Chamber’s opposition to both the Senate and House version of the bill.

The legislation was first introduced last year by state Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, who has a history of making anti-gay remarks. In 2013, he warned Senate colleagues of the numerous supposed health risks of homosexuality, claiming that “many civilizations have fallen” because they failed to defend the traditional family against the “lie” of the homosexual lifestyle. “Simply put,” Guth said, “it saves lives to have honest communication not only about the sexually transmitted diseases that shorten lifespans, but also about the deep loneliness that accompanies a life based on youth, beauty and sex.”

Guth’s bill was reportedly modeled after a notorious Indiana bill signed into law in 2015 by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The law sparked widespread opposition, with critics arguing that it opened the door for businesses to legally discriminate against the LGBT community. Companies pulled out of the state in response, and the state government spent $2 million on a global PR firm in an effort to help restore the state’s tarnished image.

Earlier this week, Kamp told the Informer that the Chamber opposed the anti-trans bathroom bill “because we support an environment of diversity and inclusivity, as that is an environment in which both business and community interests can thrive and prosper.”

As the Informer has previously reported, the Chamber adopted an inclusivity statement in January 2017 stating that it “believes in and stands for values of inclusion, equity and justice.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.
  • Ross Ackerman

    This is a disgustingly deceptive article. I encourage every person reading this article to go read the bill for themselves. It makes no mention of LGBT groups, Christianity, or business practices. It simply restates the right to freedom from government interference in religious practices, a right already guaranteed by the Constitution. It covers the freedom of Muslims to act without government interference, the freedom of Hindus to act, the freedom of Jews, Buddhists, and even those people who agree with Tom Cruise.

    Use your minds, dear individualists, and form your own opinions. https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=87&ba=SSB3171

  • Gavin Aronsen

    We encourage readers to look at the bill too, that’s why I linked to both versions of it in the article. It’s true that the bill avoids mention of LGBT groups — that’s why I called it “deceptively labeled.” This bill, as with others like it around the country, under the guise of being about what you’ve described, is plainly intended to allow businesses to refuse services to LGBT residents.

  • Ross Ackerman

    Even within the bill, there is no mention of LGBT issues. Yes, it would apply to the “bake the cake” topic, but why shouldn’t it? Would you want a gay couple to be forced to bake a cake for a marriage at Westboro Baptist Church? Or should Muslims business owners be forced to make t shirts for an alt right political event? The right to associate implicitly contains the right to restrict membership. If you have no right to restrict membership, which includes restricting people from your business, the right to association is violated.

    Furthermore, this bill goes beyond the “bake the cake” topic. At University of Iowa, a Christian student group is being the denied the right to restrict membership to those who adhere to its religious beliefs. This bill would remedy that issue. Think of the consequences if this bill doesn’t pass- a church could send 500 Christian students into a Muslim student organization, have one run for president, and vote him or her in without a problem. Again, the right of association is ignored by Universities when they force groups to accept members who don’t adhere to their core beliefs.
    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/01/16/christian-groups-lawsuit-against-iowa-university-pits-freedom-religion-against-gay-rights.html

  • Gavin Aronsen

    The US Supreme Court’s Christian Legal Society v. Martinez ruling in 2010 upheld a public university’s right to refuse recognition of a student group that wouldn’t accept LGBT members. Also see the court’s Runyon v. McCrary ruling in 1976, which dealt with limits on the right of association — specifically, by determining that federal law prohibited private schools from refusing admission to black students. Universities aren’t ignoring the right of association, they’re attempting to strike a balance between First Amendment issues and anti-discimination laws. In Iowa, both race and sexual orientation are protected classes: https://icrc.iowa.gov/your-rights/protected-classes

  • Margolise

    Thank you. Why would any business oppose their own interests by demanding more government intervention in their affairs? No company is forced to discriminate. They can be as inclusive as they like. Why scream for more government?