CBS News published a story on December 11 under the headline: "Bill would let Michigan doctors, EMTs refuse to treat gay patients." CBS News reports:
Can doctors and emergency medical technicians legally refuse to give life saving assistance to a gay person, because of their religious beliefs? That question is being debated in the Michigan legislature.
The Republican-led House has approved the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially states that people do not have to perform an act that would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
"For example, a Christian doctor who does not believe in a gay lifestyle would not have to treat a gay patient," CBS Detroit legal analyst Charlie Langton said [emphasis added].
According to Michael W. McConnell, a professor at Stanford University Law School and former federal appeals court judge, the CBS story is false. "The exact same law has been on the books at the federal level and in many states for almost twenty years, and no such claim has ever been made. And if it were made, it would lose in court, probably unanimously," McConnell tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email.
"This is no reason to refuse to enact a law that provides needed protection for minority faiths, homeless feeding shelters, high school students, store-front churches serving minority and immigrant populations, Native Americans with religious practices at odds with Anglo society, and prisoners -- to give just a few real world examples from other places with a RFRA in place," McConnell added. "The proposed law should be based on actual experience, not on inflammatory but imaginary fears."
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act on which the Michigan bill is modeled passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1993. The bill was sponsored in the House by then-congressman Chuck Schumer, who now serves in the Senate's Democratic leadership, and passed on a voice vote. It passed the Senate 97-3 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
A 1997 Supreme Court case held that the federal law was unconstitutional as applied to states, which led many states to pass their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts over the years. The laws, at both the state and federal level, instruct courts to apply a three-pronged test when adjudicating claims that a law has violated an individual's First Amendment rights to religious freedom.