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House Bill 517 — Freedom of religion, speech, action

House Bill 517 — Freedom of religion, speech, action

Parrish Miller
February 12, 2024

Bill Description: House Bill 517 would provide a path for individuals to seek civil damages when government violates their religious liberty or free speech rights.

Rating: +1

Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?

House Bill 517 would create Chapter 37, Title 6, Idaho Code, to "provide a mechanism to enforce" the state constitution's guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech against government entities that violate these rights. 

The bill says that if "any government entity" violates an individual's constitutional rights of religious liberty or freedom of speech, that entity "shall be liable to such injured person in a civil action or other proper proceeding for redress brought by such injured person."

The bill also implements the "strict scrutiny" standard for letting government bodies impinge on these fundamental rights. It says that a "governmental entity or employee may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if the governmental entity or employee demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is both essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and the least restrictive means of furthering such compelling governmental interest."

The bill provides relevant definitions and lays out a process for seeking damages from government entities. It requires that claims begin within two years "from the date the claim arose or should reasonably have been discovered," with exceptions for minor victims and cases of fraud or concealment.

The bill broadly protects government employees from personal liability, creating a "rebuttable presumption that any act or omission of an employee within the time and at the place of his employment is within the course and scope of his employment."

The bill allows the court to award "a reasonable attorney's fee" to the prevailing party and caps "noneconomic damages" at $20,000.

Taken as a whole, this bill takes positive steps toward protecting two fundamental rights and increasing the government's accountability when it violates of those rights.


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