Montana Governor Signs Bill Protecting And Empowering People’s Religious Freedom

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill on Thursday that protects and empowers the religious freedom of citizens.

Entitled "Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the Christian Headlines reported that Gianforte signed the law out of his desire that the "right to freely exercise their religion" be protected. Gianforte was refering to citizens who he intends to be delivered from the government's "burdening" of their religious liberty.

"To protect Montanans' right to freely exercise their religion, I was proud to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act today," Gianforte said in Twitter on Friday.

"Thank you to Sen. Carl Glimm (R-Kila) for your work on this legislation," he added in the same post that includes an infographic of what he has done.

The Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act or Senate Bill No. 215, according to the legislation's literature, revises existing laws related to the "free exercise of religion," which the state recognizes as a "fundamental right."

The bill identified two purposes for its enactment: (1) "to restore the compelling governmental interest test and to guarantee its application in all cases in which the exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action" and (2) "to provide a claim or defense to a person or persons whose exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action."

The literature went on to explain that "substantially burdened" meant "any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person's exercise of religion" while "Compelling governmental interest" meant "a governmental interest of the highest order that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion."

The Christian Headlines explained that the law prohibits the goverment from burdening the individual in the practice of one's faith unless the state's action is essential in achieving a governmental interest and that the said action is the "least restrictive means" of achieving the said action.

Individuals are then given the right to sue the government if they find being restricted of their religious liberty and such lawsuit could include the lawyer's fees and damages.

Despite the law being very generic in its content in terms of its scope and implementation, LGBTQ+ groups and advocates condemned its enactment out of believing that it will be used against them. The Christian Headlines cited Montana Human Rights Equality and Economic Justice Director Shawn Reagor in telling the Associated Press during an interview that Senate Bill No 215 will allow "individuals to turn the shield of religious freedom we all hold dear into a weapon to attack LGBTQ and Indigenous Montanans."

Meanwhile, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Sharp said that the bill ensures citizens in Montana will be "free to live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust government punishment."

Gianforte also said that it will be a good basis for courts before deciding on a case on the matter since it serves as a "sensible balancing test." He commended the law for citizens are now empowered to live according to one's faith and gives a "fair hearing when government action forces a person to violate his or her religious beliefs." He thanked the governor for signing the bill, as well as, Glimm for sponsoring it.