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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.

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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