Massachusetts bill would bar companies from citing religious exemptions

Lawmakers are weighing a bill aimed at preventing corporations from being able to claim religious exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws for conduct that occurs in Massachusetts.

The bill is in part a reaction to the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that enabled the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby chain to be exempt from a federal mandate to offer contraceptives as part of its employee health care plans.

The bill states that “the powers of a business corporation do not include assertion — based on the purported religious belief or moral conviction on the part of the corporation, its officers, or directors — of exemptions from, or claims or defenses against, federal or state law prohibiting discrimination.”

Supporters say Massachusetts already prohibits many forms of discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations on grounds that include race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, disability, ancestry, or veteran status.

“LGBTQ people across the commonwealth value the cornerstone of freedom of religion. It’s a core belief we all share,” Mason Dunn, Executive Director of Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition said in a statement. “However, when faith and religion are used to hurt and discriminate, that freedom becomes a weapon against our community — and that’s not something we can allow here in Massachusetts.”

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