On the heels of the court ruling allowing same-sex marriage in Wyoming, a bill before the state Legislature would allow people -- including county clerks -- to deny services if their religious beliefs conflict with government policy.

House Bill 83, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would help people exercise freedom of religion, according to sponsors. It's about freedom of conscience, said Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis.

Meanwhile, the Compete Wyoming coalition announced a handful of prominent state residents who support passing an anti-discrimination bill to protect LGBT residents in the workplace. The list includes retired U.S. Sen. Al Simpson, a Republican.

House Bill 83

The bill states that government can burden a person's exercise of religion or moral conscience. In addition to government employees, people in the private sector such as professional photographers would be covered, Winters said.

"They're free from oppression of government if they choose to exercise freedom of conscience," he said.

Winters, a Hot Springs County pastor, said his bill would apply to religious people in all situations in which government policy flew in the face of their beliefs, although he couldn't provide any examples outside of gay marriage.

If government forces religious people to act against their beliefs, they can sue, according to the bill.

Winters said Congress passed a religious freedom restoration act in the 1990s, for federal government policy. His bill protects people under state law. Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Rep. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, are co-sponsors.


In addition to Simpson, Compete Wyoming announced others who are on board: Susan Thomas, educator and wife of late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas; Jan Larimer, former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman and Wyoming GOP national committeewoman; Shawn Mills, CEO of Green House Data; Nancy Brinks Lyman, account manager of CenturyLink; Lynn Birleffi, former head of the Wyoming Retail Association and Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association; Bryan Pedersen, head of Pedersen Investment Group and former state representative; and Dave O’Malley, Albany County sheriff and incoming president of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

“It’s sure not the Wyoming way of life I have known in 83 years of living here – to be filled with hate and want to hurt and bully our fellow workers and citizen,” Simpson said in a statement. “Enough. Stop it now!”

Reach political reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

(22) comments


Rep. Winters is completely wrongheaded. This proposal of his needs to be annulled. There is no place for a persona; conscience in the issuance of a legally defined , legally allowed, legally constrained, legally established license or any other document at the Courthouse. Religious beliefs, morality, and conscience do not trump legality as defined by law.

It really is that simple. If the applicants are entitled to a license and meet the legal requirements, there is no justification for denying it. The pragmatic solution is for an " offended" deputy clerk to just let another less offended clerk take care of it over the counter. If none are willing to do so, the duly elected County Clerk---who took an oath --must issue the license. If the clerk does not, that is malfeasance/ misfeasance, and could result in her direct dismissal from her job. Ditto the At Will employees of the Clerk's office.

Reminds me of the day I went to buy license plates at the Treasuer's office in Cody . The Treasurer was a friend of mine and let me pick my own plate number from the remaining plates. I chose " 666 ". She laughed. But her Deputy clerk ---a fundamental Christian woman- was not about to let me have it. She said " we don't let that number out". I said " yes, you do . It's on the shelf. it's just a number. She tried to deny me the 666 license plate but eventually her boss the Treasurer made her do it. I told her I would make a claim of malfeasance. if I did not get the 666 license plate. So that's how my red Volvo became the Devil's own car.

The next number in the license plate sequence 667 was plated to the funeral home's hearse. . Go figure.

Real Republican

Devil +1, sounds right. :*)


The State needs to stay out of this gay marriage issue. If a Church wants to deny a marriage- then it should be the Church to make that judgement not the State.


If your religious beliefs put you at odds with government policy then find another job that doesn't.

Real Republican

The Liberty hating neocon Winters strikes again. The county clerk takes an overpaid, underworked job to serve the people of the county and takes an oath to uphold the laws in that position. I'm adding clergy to lawyers as people I will never vote for. Push your agenda Nate, Constitution be damned!


I am very excited by HOUSE BILL NO. HB0083. Paying taxes violates my religious beliefs and sensibilities. It is great to know that brilliant legislators recognize that we should only have to follow statutes, including Civil Rights legislation if it passes our own individual religious convictions.

dd ric

Makes ya wonder who Winters is sucking up to! Another paleo-con wanting to return to the Crusades so they can behead the unbelievers,.........which sounds like Sharia Law,doesn't it? ddric

Comment deleted.
Real Republican

They need a "like" button.

Cowboy Joe

So as an agnostic/atheist could deny service to a Christian? An evangelical Christian could deny a Mormom couple a license because of a personal conflict with the Book of Mormon? This is dumber than allowing pharmacists veto authority over ones prescription


and what if I'm a clerk who is anti Mormon, anti semetic, or anti Catholic and want to deny marriage to any of these groups. As a clerk would I have the right to do this? Shame on this bigoted homophobe.


this is sad that Wyoming still thinks its can avoid federal rulings. skirt decisions made by courts and deny anyone the right to marry who they love.


Wyoming, the Equality State......where the legislature can make you more equal than others.

Cowboy Joe

Just looking at that picture of Winters makes me wonder is he is fighting some internal urges---A young Larry Craig perhaps??


I am glad I didn't vote for him. Nobody in a government job should have the right to deny a service they provide as part of that job to anyone based solely on his own religious beliefs.


"Restoration"? Please, whose religious rights have been infringed upon? This looks like it was probably another boiler plate bill from ALEC.


The Bill is flagerently unconstitutional any action of the country clerk is actually an action of the government as the county clerk is not acting as their own self but with agency to represent the government, thus when the clerk refuses a marriage lisence to a homosexual couple due to their homoexuality it is in fact the government doing so and as such the government is now guilty of violating both the state and federal constitutional rights of the couple


Hey Winters! Do what you say. You say you want less government, yet you're proposing more government. Quit wasting the legislature's time on silly bills such as this. Our state has more important bills to discuss. For example, we still need to discuss the jackalope as Wyoming's mythical creature.


HB 26 is just stupid and unnecessary. This one is stupid and might also be Unconstitutional.

jerry lewis

This bill is worse, more intentionally harmful, than a Charlie Hebdo cartoon.


It would be much better if the reporter and the commenters actually read the bill. The bill says nothing about county clerks or marriage specifically, and does say that "Government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religious ... if ... [it is] essential to further a compelling government interest; and ... the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." The same essential bill has been passed by 19 states since the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the federal bill, sponsored by Democrat NY Senator Chuck Schumer and signed by President Clinton, did not apply to the states. One of the key legal cases leading to the passage of that bill was a case trying to protect Native American rights to prevent the Forest Service from building a road through sacred sites, and another case protecting the rights of 2 Native Americans in Oregon to use peyote in a religious ceremony.
This newspaper deliberately chose an inflammatory headline and totally failed to give readers the historical background.


The early church was a communist organization. See Acts 2:42-46. Therefore, in accordance with Rev. Winters' bill, I will move to Wyoming and demand that the community support me as my religious right. Likewise, I will require by religious right that all businesses provide me with gay-affirming versions of whatever services or products they provide. This bill allows me to do that. Religion isn't just restrictive; it can also be inclusive. We inclusivist Christians need to use the tools that are available to us, and this bill will open up whole new areas of possibilities.


This bill makes absolutely no mention of gay marriage, clerks, photographers or Christianity. It is carte blanche for anyone to ignore any law as long as they have a "sincerely held religious belief." This means Muslims, Satanists could inflict their religions upon our students in public schools, and the government would be unable to remove them. It means those with racist religious views could refuse service to black people. It isn't limited to gay marriage.

In Minneapolis, cab passengers were getting over 100 complaints a MONTH of Muslim cab drivers refusing to give rides to disabled people with guide animals and others. Under this law, that would be completely legal.

This is completely unnecessary. It will open a huge pandora's box of unintended consequences far beyond just baking a cake or two.

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