The Republican-controlled Indiana House approved the measure Monday on a 63-31 vote, largely along party lines. Five Republicans joined 26 Democrats in opposing the bill.
The vote likely clears a path for the hot-button legislation to become law. The Senate already approved a slightly different version of the bill last month and Senate author Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he plans to concur with the House version, possibly later this week.
The bill will then go to Gov. Mike Pence, who said Monday he plans to sign the legislation.
Senate Bill 101 would prevent state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.
Supporters say the measure would protect people and business owners with strong religious beliefs from government intrusion.
“It’s important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those,” said Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Inglefield.
Opponents say it would license discrimination, particularly against gays and lesbians.
“It basically says to a group of people you’re second rate, you don’t matter, and if you walk into my store, I don’t have to serve you,” said Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
Social conservatives have pushed hard for such measures across the country following recent federal court rulings that legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.
The proposal is modeled on a 22-year-old federal law known as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. That law played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that allowed Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations with religious objections to opt out of an Affordable Care Act requirement that they cover certain contraceptives for women.
Nineteen other states have adopted similar “religious freedom” laws, and several others are considering legislation.
Gay rights groups and several major Indiana employers — including Salesforce, Cummins and Eskenazi Health — have opposed the measure, fearing it will encourage discrimination and hurt Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming state.
A House committee last week tried to assuage the concerns of some business interests, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, with an amendment that exempts employers from any lawsuits brought by employees under the legislation.
Legal scholars have voiced contrasting opinions about legislation’s impact. The issue has also divided religious leaders.
In debating the measure on Monday, lawmakers on both sides of the issue cited religious scripture to defend their positions.
Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, spoke about an anesthesiologist who didn’t want to anesthetize a woman in preparation for an abortion. Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to “do all things as unto the Lord” means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, cited the Bible for the opposite purpose — to argue that Jesus served all people.
“My prophet had dinner with hookers,” he said. “Was he blessing them? I hope so.”
Despite the governor’s support for the legislation throughout the session, Freedom Indiana, a coalition opposing the measure, said it is holding out hope that he will veto the bill. The group cited Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to veto similar legislation in that state last year.
“We turn our attention now to Governor Pence who, like Governor Jan Brewer in Arizona, has the ability to stop this dangerous bill dead in its tracks when it hits his desk,” said Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana.
The chances of that, however, appear slim. The governor issued the following statement after Monday’s House vote.
“The legislation, SB 101, is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact,” he said. “I strongly support the legislation and applaud the members of the General Assembly for their work on this important issue. I look forward to signing the bill when it reaches my desk.”
Categories: Political Correctness/Totalitarian Humanism