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Governor Backs 'Religious Freedom' Bill, Opponents Say It Legalizes Discrimination

Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras
Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras

On Thursday, Montana's Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte put his support behind a bill supporters say would protect religious freedom. Opponents say it would allow for discrimination of LGBTQ Montanans.

Shawn Reagor, an organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network, told lawmakers that he knows the consequences of discrimination: he was once fired from a job for being part of the LGBTQ community. 

“I beg you not to let the religious freedom that we all hold dear to be twisted into a weapon to cause such harm," Reagor said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, said the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" aims to protect against discrimination of religious people by government entities by giving them their "fair day in court." The Senate already endorsed Senate Bill 215 by a narrow two-vote margin. 

Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, speaking on behalf of the Gianforte Administration, supported the bill. 

“What this act does is provide the same level of protection to the very first right mentioned in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution that is given to the other important constitutional rights.”

The Montana Family Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Montana Catholic Conference also support the policy. 

Organizations such as the Montana Medical Association, the ACLU of Montana and Western Native Voice testified SB 215 will allow health care providers, businesses, employers and others to discriminate against LGTBQ residents. 

The cities of Bozeman and Missoula, which have non-discrimination ordinances, and the Montana American Indian Caucus also voiced opposition. 

The House Judiciary Committee has yet to take action on the bill.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.