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Rep. Nathan Winters

Rep. Nathan Winters

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.

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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.

Coalition

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!”

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

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