Top Democrats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives will take a fresh look later this month at legislation that would block businesses from citing religion as the basis for ignoring state anti-discrimination laws.
Rep. Michael Day, a Stoneham Democrat, filed a bill last year that would prevent for-profit business corporations from raising religious claims for corporate exemptions from Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws.
The bill (H 767) went through the standard committee process, but is now slated to get a second look by a working group put in place by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The purpose of the working group is to chart responses to policies emanating from President Donald Trump's administration.
The group, led by Majority Leader Ronald Mariano and Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, has called for a hearing on the Day bill on June 26.
"This bill shuts the door on tactics that seek to pervert our laws by using them to discriminate against our residents," Day said in a statement. "In Massachusetts, at least, if a for-profit corporation violates our civil rights laws it will be held responsible for its actions."
The Supreme Court, in a ruling issued on June 4, sided with a Colorado baker and his business Masterpiece Cakeshop in its lawsuit against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The lawsuit found that the Baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake.
The ruling, however, was considered narrow in that it did not pass judgment on whether a business can assert its First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and speech to deny service to a class of people. Instead, the court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not impartially review the baker's case.
"We understand that the Supreme Court's decision last week was narrow, but LGBT residents cannot wait for 'further elaboration in the courts' to be protected by our anti-discrimination laws," Mariano said in a statement, hinting at the direction in which House leaders might be leaning.
Since its formation, the House Federal Initiatives Working Group has invited testimony on more than a handful of pieces of legislation, and put several on the fast track to passage.
Two bills have passed the House to date based on the working group's recommendations, including a prohibition on the use of state prisoners to assist the construction of a Mexico border wall and another that would link Massachusetts to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, from which Trump withdrew.
Day's bill had a hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary last October, and was recommended by the committee in February. The bill has been pending on the House's formal session calendar since March but has not moved forward.
The Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), which is behind the effort this November to repeal a state law ensuring transgender people's right to use public facilities that match their gender identity, filed a brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
MFI President Andrew Beckwith called the court's ruling "good news for all people of faith."
This report was originally published by State House News Service.