Religious freedom debate coming to Ohio

If State Rep. Andy Thompson gets his way, we will see new signs in Marietta’s store windows starting this spring. “Gays Not Welcome” signs will not only be legal, but expectant. After last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, new “religion protection” bills started popping up in conservative states across the country. Arizona just passed its law. Tennessee, Mississippi, Utah, Kansas, Alabama, and Ohio are following suit. Marietta’s Andy Thompson is co-sponsoring Ohio’s version – HB-376 – “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” This act makes it legal to refuse services to anyone that you perceive to violate your religious beliefs. The conservative groups and media promoting the legislation are very clear that the new law is directed at gay and lesbian Ohioans. Conservatives like Mr. Thompson want to legally restore the religious freedom of private business owners and public employees to refuse services to gay people. HB-376 is modeled on the recently passed Arizona law which also protects/restores the religious rights of law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency personnel.

When the Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act becomes effective in Ohio, we expect Thompson’s supporters to clearly post notices on their stores and restaurants – especially during tourist season, river festivals, and merchants/artists walks. While the local citizens may know which businesses do not welcome us, we don’t want visitors to inadvertently violate your religious freedom that Thompson worked so hard to restore.

Jim Rapp