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Politics & Government

Idaho House Committee Balks On Creating Religious Freedom Day

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

An Idaho House Committee has rejected a resolution that would’ve established a Religious Freedom Day over concerns it would actually limit the practice of religion.



The proposal from Rep. Jake Ellis (D-Boise) and Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) would’ve declared Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day, the same day that’s been recognized federally since 1992. 


“[Religious freedom] is not a privilege for the few, but a right for all that applies to people of all and no religious affiliations or beliefs,” reads part of the resolution.


Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) said he’s worried that adopting such a measure could be used to support removing religious statues from cities across the state, even though a legislative resolution doesn’t carry the force of law.


“Given the activist courts that we’ve seen both on the federal and state level, I’m just not comfortable going with this,” Barbieri said.


Rep. Heath Scott (R-Blanchard) floated the idea that such a resolution was part of a push by the United Nations to emphasize freedom of “belief” rather than religion.


Scott also questioned Burgoyne about whether the resolution would force churches to hire someone outside of their belief system, which couldn’t legally happen under this proposal.


Because the resolution included a carveout for the non religious, Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) said she couldn’t support it, either.


“We are a religious country and so we do not need to fear the nonbeliever,” Burgoyne countered. “We need to respect the nonbeliever.”


Burgoyne also brought up Idaho’s own tainted history of discrimination against followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Until 1982, the state constitution barred Mormons from holding public office, among other things, due to their historic ties to polygamy, though such a ban wasn’t enforced following an Idaho Supreme Court decision in 1908.


Still, more than one-third of voters rejected removing that language from Idaho’s guiding document even just 38 years ago.


Burgoyne described it as “the most vile and hatred-filled kind of discrimination” that this resolution intends to combat, by including the words Thomas Jefferson used in establishing Virginia’s statute for religious freedom in 1786.


“They speak to an issue that we’ve had right here in this state that was wrong and it has to be rooted out and we have to stand against.”


Last year, the full House narrowly rejected a resolution that called for an end to Christian persecution because it wasn’t more inclusive of all religions.

Several state representatives who are members of the LDS faith said the resolution needed to be broader because their religion had historically been persecuted against, as many felt Mormons weren’t “Christian enough.”


After the House State Affairs Committee voted to hold the resolution back from the floor Wednesday, Ellis, one of the sponsors, said he was considering altering it slightly to win over his opponents.


Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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