By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com February 25 2014 7:09 PM ET
As a “license to discriminate” bill awaits a decision by Arizona’s governor, Indiana lawmakers have scrapped a more limited version of such legislation, and a bill similar to Arizona’s may be turned back in Georgia.
The Indiana House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee today changed course on legislation that would allow some state contractors to make hiring decisions based on their religious views, The Indianapolis Star reports. The committee removed the religious exemption provision from an unrelated bill, after having added it Monday. That provision would have meant schools, colleges, and universities could refuse to hire or promote people who didn’t adhere to the institutions’ religious tenets — for instance, LGBT people or members of other religions — and maintain their contracts with the state.
“I didn’t quite understand the firestorm it would create,” Rep. Eric Turner, the measure’s author, told the Ways and Means Committee, according to the Star. Turner, also the author of the state’s proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, said he wanted to address legal concerns that had been raised about a contract between the state and Indiana Wesleyan University, which allowed the university to factor religion into employment decisions.
After the committee approved the provision Monday, there was immediate backlash on social media, so House speaker Brian Bosma announced the committee would reconsider it — and this morning, members removed it.
Robert A. Katz, a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, was among the measure’s critics. “It would create a right to discriminate on the basis of religion for any position, even if it has nothing to do with the organization’s religious mission,” he told the Star. “This could create a religious test for janitors.”
Meanwhile, the chair of Georgia’s House Judiciary Committee says the so-called Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, introduced last week, needs further analysis, and is unlikely to pass this session. “Can’t see it happening,” chairman Wendell Willard told WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station. “It came in rather late in the session. Too many proponents and opponents.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains that the bill “exempts people and businesses from any government action or legal proceeding that ‘directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or that directly or indirectly pressures any person to engage in any action contrary to that person’s exercise of religion.’” LGBT activists opposed to the measure packed a hearing in the House yesterday.
A companion bill remains under consideration in the Georgia State Senate, where a committee advanced it Friday. For legislation to remain alive during the session, it has to be passed by one house of the legislature by next Monday, called “Crossover Monday” in Georgia. While the House likely won’t vote on its version of the “religious freedom” bill by the deadline, it’s as yet unknown whether the Senate will take action, WABE reports.