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Florida Bill Tests Waters of 'Religious Freedom'

Florida Bill Tests Waters of 'Religious Freedom'

Rep. Julio Gonzalez
Rep. Julio Gonzalez

The legislation could allow businesses, adoption agencies, and even health care facilities to deny services to LGBT people.

A Florida lawmaker has proposed a so-called religious freedom bill, echoing controversial legislation passed in recent years in Mississippi, Indiana, and Arkansas.

Florida Republican Rep. Julio Gonzalez filed House Bill 101 on Wednesday, which could give individuals, businesses, religious institutions, and even adoption and health care agencies what opponents call a license to discriminate against LGBT people in Florida.

If the bill becomes law, these businesses would not have "to produce, create, or deliver a product or service" that violates a religious or moral principle held by a business or its employees.

Gonzalez claims to have filed the bill in response to a perceived attack on "religious freedoms," reports HT Politics.

"There have been various situations where there are increasing possibilities of subsections of society having their religious freedoms encroached on," Gonzalez told the local news source. "Over time it became obvious to me we need to adopt some statutory protections."

"We have seen in other states the bakers, the photographers who don't want to participate in certain religious events," Gonzalez continued.

The Catholic representative is referring to cases like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, in which antigay business owners and bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple in Oregon. The bakers were later ordered by a state agency to pay a hefty fine for violating Oregon's existing nondiscrimination law, which they have since refused to pay.

Earlier this year, the Florida Senate repealed the state's longtime ban on adoption by gays and lesbians, a law rendered unenforceable by a court decision five years ago. However, in response, conservatives have fought to pass legislation that would allow adoption agencies to deny placing children with prospective parents on moral or religious grounds.

The bill filed by Gonzalez is similar to laws passed in Arkansas and Indiana, which created an intense backlash from public figures like George Takei and Miley Cyrus, as well as businesses like Apple and consumer review site Angie's List, which cancelled a planned expansion of its headquarters in Indianapolis in the wake of Indiana's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Critics of Gonzalez's bill, like lobbyist Carlos Guillermo Smith, worry that this "sweeping anti-LGBT legislation" could incite a similar firestorm in Florida.

"Bills like this threaten Florida's tourism-based economy and could provoke an Indiana-style backlash. It would be a disaster for Florida," Smith told the local outlet.

But Gonzalez is unfazed.

"This is not about discriminating," Gonzalez told HT Politics. "This is making sure the state stops, at a narrowly crafted level, from intruding into somebody's liberties."

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