Iowa Gov. Reynolds’ Christian nationalist agenda continues with signing of RFRA

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Gov. Kim Reynolds’ reign of intolerance continued Tuesday night when the Iowa executive signed into law a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (commonly known as RFRA). 

With the signing of this law, which is effective immediately, Reynolds continues her radical agenda to turn Iowa into a safe haven for those invoking their religious beliefs to discriminate. Revealing this intent is the fact that Reynolds signed the bill into law at a private dinner hosted by a conservative Christian organization known as The Family Leader. According to its website, the group’s mission is “inspiring the Church to engage Government for the advance of God’s Kingdom and the strengthening of Family.” During the signing ceremony Reynolds announced, “Thirty years ago, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed almost unanimously at the federal level. Since then, religious rights have increasingly come under attack.”  

She is right that the federal RFRA overwhelmingly passed through Congress, but since that time, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation predicted and contrary to what Reynolds claims, conservative Christians have utilized this legal avenue to legitimize discrimination under the guise of religious freedoms. Look no further than the notorious Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case, allowing corporations to refuse health care benefits to their employees based on religious grounds. FFRF submitted an amicus brief urging the justices to declare RFRA unconstitutional, which notably was the lone voice presenting this bold challenge, as recognized by SCOTUSblog. FFRF’s argument contended that RFRA violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by imposing the religious beliefs of employers on employees who may not share them, among other constitutional concerns.

While the RFRA bill was the worst to pass this session in Iowa, it was not the only one introduced to appease Reynolds’ theocratic agenda. The Satanic Temple, in an effort to counter a nativity scene in the state Capitol, erected a display of their own. Predictably, Reynolds was offended that her religious views could not have an unrivaled forum in a public building. “Like many Iowans, I find the Satanic Temple’s display in the Capitol absolutely objectionable. In a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech, and I encourage all those of faith to join me today in praying over the Capitol and recognizing the nativity scene that will be on display — the true reason for the season,” she said in a statement. Two days after that statement was released, a deranged man destroyed the display and was later charged with a hate crime. In a blatantly unconstitutional accompanying move, Iowa lawmakers introduced unconstitutional legislation that sought to restrict satanic displays on state property. 

The Legislature followed Texas’ lead and attempted to place chaplains in public schools, too. It also introduced a bill that would provide even more protections for medical professionals to abandon their duties to patients based on their religious beliefs. Luckily, all three of these bills died before they could even make it to a committee hearing.

“It is dismaying to see Gov. Reynolds turn Iowa into a state where people are free to discriminate against vulnerable populations,” says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We will continue to stand up for true religious liberties and ensure that people of all faiths, or those with no faith at all, are respected in Iowa.”

The FFRF Action Fund engaged with our advocates in Iowa during this legislative session to actively oppose the state RFRA and other bills entangling religion with government — and will continue to do so.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.