Metro

Maine Senate rejects religious freedom bill

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state Senate rejected a bill Tuesday aimed at strengthening legal protections for religious freedom, which opponents say is unnecessary and could roll back decades of advances made for civil rights.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 19 to 16 to reject a bill sponsored by Senator David Burns, Republican of Whiting.

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He said it would ensure that the state has a strong justification before it can infringe on someone’s religious liberty. The bill mirrors a federal law signed by President Clinton in 1993, he said. ‘‘This is not a partisan issue,’’ Burns told lawmakers. ‘‘This is an American issue. . . . It is the right thing to do.’’

Opponents said the bill is unnecessary because religious freedom is protected under the Maine Constitution and federal and state laws.

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Passing this bill would have significant unintended consequences, they said. ‘‘I see this bill as a step backward,’’ said Senator Linda Valentino, Democrat of Saco. “I see this bill as being used as a vehicle for a few extremists to hide behind the words of religious freedom as a way to circumvent our antidiscrimination laws.”

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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