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Utah passes religious freedom bill with language to prevent anti-LGBTQ discrimination

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers on Thursday passed a version of a decades-old federal law protecting religious freedom rights, with language declaring their intent that the bill won’t impact the state’s ban on conversion therapy and other anti-discrimination policies.

SB150 is similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which was passed more than 30 years ago — making Utah the latest state to put the protections in state code. Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has previously said the protections are already in place thanks to the federal law, but Utah’s version will serve as a “backstop” to residents of the Beehive State should Congress make changes or repeal the statute.

The bill would apply the highest level of legal scrutiny to any state law or municipal code that potentially violates a person’s religious beliefs. It also prohibits government entities from placing a burden on a person’s beliefs “unless the burden is essential to furthering a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Like the federal religious protection act, “SB150 offers judicial relief to a person whose religious exercise is burdened by a government office or official that falls short of meeting that compelling standard,” Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, the floor sponsor of the bill, told House colleagues Thursday morning. “In a world that’s increasingly hostile to religion, these amendments are an important expression of Utah’s long-established commitment to religious freedom.”

SB150 is similar to religious freedom laws in other states, but Utah’s version include non-codified language to clarify that the bill isn’t meant to override previous bills that balance religious freedom with other rights. Equality Utah, the state’s premiere LGBTQ+ rights organization, said it was initially concerned the bill could overrule anti-discrimination policies in housing and the state’s ban on conversion therapy.

“We are grateful the sponsor, Sen. Weiler, heard our concerns and incorporated language in the bill to make clear that the rights conferred in these previously enacted bills are preserved and protected,” the group said in a statement last week.

After the bill passed the Senate last week, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, called it “one of the best religious freedom bills in the country.”

SB150 passed the House unanimously Thursday and now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox for a signature. If signed, the new law will take effect on May 1.

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Utah LegislatureUtahPoliticsSalt Lake CountyReligion 

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