News: Indiana House committee approves religious discrimination bill; RFRA will move to House Chamber

Via Indianapolis Star: Indiana House panel OKs religious freedom bill

An Indiana House committee today approved controversial religious freedom legislation that could protect business owners who don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Despite better organized opposition to the measure, the House Judiciary Committee voted 9-4 to send the measure to the full House for consideration.

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.

“It puts our organization in an untenable position,” she said. “It could harm our ability to provide the best care to all our patients.”

But the concerns of some business groups were eased after the committee adopted an amendment backed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that exempts employers from any lawsuits brought by employees under the legislation.

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.

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.

From the fourth floor of the Statehouse, they chanted: “Reject RFRA! Reject RFRA!”

RFRA is an acronym for Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal law on which the proposed legislation is modeled.

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