« Ind. Courts - Complying with the revisions to Administrative Rule 9 - Q & A #6 | Main | Ind. Gov't. - “Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War” »

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - Reports on yesterday's hearing on "religious freedom" bill

Updating this ILB post from yesterday, here are some quotes from press reports of the hearing:

"House panel votes for 'religious freedom' bill," Nili Kelly, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

The House Judiciary Committee on Monday voted 9-4 in support of a controversial "religious freedom" bill.

Senate Bill 101 says a state or local government action cannot substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion. But it isn't an automatic win for someone who would sue under the statute.

A judge would still have to determine that the action was essential to a compelling government interest and it was achieved in the least restrictive way. * * *

Opponents believe the law can be used to discriminate against Hoosiers -- especially gays and lesbians.

Sexual orientation is not a state-protected class, but 12 Indiana cities -- including Fort Wayne -- have their own human rights' ordinances that protect gays. These local laws generally prohibit a business from discriminating in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Indiana University Professor of Law Robert Katz said Indiana's Constitution has a stronger protection than the federal constitution and the bill is unnecessary.

And he urged lawmakers to insert one line making clear the bill would not supersede state and local civil rights protections.

"The problem is what this bill doesn't say," Katz said. "It doesn't say the protection of civil rights is a compelling interest. Why doesn't this bill itself provide an exemption for anti-discrimination laws?"

"Why, again, do we need a religious freedom bill?," Erika Smith, Indy Star:
[I]nside the House chamber, Democrats asked whether businesses could be sued for firing employees who refuse to do their jobs for religious reasons.

Republicans, meanwhile, stayed the course about Indiana needing the bill to protect the right of business owners who don’t want to make cakes or take photos for gay couples who are getting married. Never mind the law professor who warned that “the odds of success for the religious objector are slim, but not impossible,” and even with a religious freedom law on the books, “discrimination just for the sake of discrimination will not be tolerated.”

Then there was the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Wesco, who argued that Indiana needs the bill to protect churches like one in Goshen that is pushing to expand into a largely retail district.

“The board of zoning appeals should not discriminate against that church simply because they’re religious,” he said.

Other supporters said the bill would protect pharmacies that don’t want to sell morning-after pills and Muslim women who want to wear hijab head-coverings despite bans on wearing hats in a classroom. A monk said the bill would help prevent the United States from going down the same slippery slope as Cuba, where he had to flee religious persecution. * * *

Perhaps Cummins Inc.’s Marya Rose put it best when she reminded lawmakers about the two “very smart” attorneys who predicted that the bill would do very different things.

“Maybe we don’t really know,” she told the committee. “How’s a business to know?”

"‘Religious freedom' legislation passes House committee," Chelsea Schneider, Evansville C&P:
Opponents argue the proposal doesn't adequately protect civil rights and the legislation is unnecessary because religious protections already exist in state law.

Robert Katz, an Indiana University law professor, asked lawmakers to add anti-discrimination language to the bill.

"The problem here is what this bill doesn't say," Katz said. "It doesn't say that the protection of civil rights is a compelling governmental interest … that is what is so disconcerting to people who are concerned about the protection of their civil rights."

With same-sex marriage now legal in Indiana, the state is one of a handful in the country where same-sex couples are allowed to marry but no statewide non-discrimination law exists. That's led some to fear the state adopting the measure could lead to businesses denying services to gays or minorities based on religious beliefs.

"House panel OKs 'religious freedom' proposal on party-line vote," Dan Carden, NWI Times:
Fear that state courts may not be sufficiently enthusiastic for the Indiana Constitution's multiple guarantees of religious liberty helped propel House committee approval Monday of a "religious freedom restoration act."

Senate Bill 101, which opponents claim is a license to discriminate under the guise of religion, passed the House Judiciary Committee 9-4, * * *

The measure exempts individuals, including businesses, from state laws and local ordinances if a person claims the law violates his or her religious beliefs -- unless the government can show the burden is the least restrictive way to further a legitimate government interest, such as public safety.

The committee changed the Senate-approved text, which also passed on a party-line vote, 40-10, to bar religious freedom lawsuits by employees against their employers for workplace sanctions imposed, for example, if a Christian electrician refused to repair a mosque's generator or a male worker rebelled at having a female supervisor.

Supporters of the revised legislation, particularly state Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, the sponsor, argued it brings needed clarity to the standard courts must use in judging whether a government action infringes on religious liberty by requiring the strictest possible scrutiny.

However, proving the maxim that all politics is local, Wesco said he was drawn to the issue after he learned a church in his district might be prohibited from relocating to downtown Goshen because the area is zoned commercial, and neighboring businesses are concerned a storefront church will create a dead zone six days a week in what is supposed to be a retail area.

"The Board of Zoning Appeals should not discriminate against that church simply because they are religious," Wesco said.

Opponents of the measure said its requirement that anti-discrimination, and all other Indiana laws and local ordinances, must specifically be exempted to avoid being subject to religious freedom challenges implicitly authorizes discrimination in the name of religion.

"Indiana House panel OKs religious freedom bill," Tony Cook and Stephanie Wang , Indianapolis Star:
The vote followed four hours of testimony, which included dueling speeches from law professors and conflicting testimony from religious leaders on both sides of the issue.

Tim Overton, a Southern Baptist pastor from Muncie, said the law is needed to protect people who strictly interpret the Bible.

"People that have my approach toward scripture are much more worried about government because we can't bend our religious beliefs," he said.

Daniel Conkle, a law professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, said the measure would provide judges with clearer guidance in resolving disputes over religious freedom.

He said concerns about discrimination were overblown based on the experiences of 19 other states with similar laws, though he conceded it is possible that a judge could rule in favor of a business owner who denies wedding services to a gay couple.

Robert Katz, a law professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said the bill has a lethal flaw because it could undermine local ordinances in Indianapolis and several other Indiana cities that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Why doesn't this bill itself provide an exemption for anti-discrimination laws?" he said. "It's the absence that itself sends a message."

Several large Indiana employers — including engine maker Cummins and healthcare provider Eskenazi Health — voiced concerns about the measure's impact on their businesses.

Jessica Barth, Eskenazi's vice president of legal affairs and chief counsel, said the hospital fears employees might think they don't have to provide care to a patient if they feel it violates their religious views. * * *

The battle over the bill is increasingly mirroring last year's fight over a proposal that would have banned same-sex marriage in Indiana's constitution.

Until Monday's hearing, opponents of the religious freedom bill lacked a significant presence at the Statehouse. But after the measure cleared the Senate last month, many who opposed the same-sex marriage ban last year re-united to oppose this year's religious freedom legislation.

Freedom Indiana, the coalition that successfully stalled the marriage amendment last year, rallied against the religious freedom bill, packing the House gallery with opponents wearing red T-shirts.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 17, 2015 09:06 AM
Posted to Indiana Government