INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Broadly worded proposals backed by conservative lawmakers that would give the state’s residents and businesses expansive religious freedom protections will be discussed in the Indiana Legislature in the coming weeks.
One of the proposals, sponsored by Republican Sen. Scott Schneider, would prohibit any state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs, and extends the definition of a “person” to include religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Schneider, R-Indianapolis, declined to discuss the specifics of the proposal this week, saying he would comment closer to a scheduled Feb. 9 committee hearing.
Social conservatives in several states in recent years have pushed similar bills as gay marriage bans fall across the nation. Those measures asserted the right to have no involvement with gay marriages, but the Indiana proposals make no mention of gay marriage.
The legislation comes after last year’s failed effort to advance a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which federal courts later legalized in Indiana.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long said he didn’t regard the proposal as one intended to allow businesses such as bakeries and photographers to refuse dealings with gay couples.
“That’s a fine line you walk when you have constitutional rights on both sides, we understand that,” Long said. “Ultimately, the courts will continue to guide us on what you can and can’t do out there.”
Long said more than 20 states have religious freedom laws similar to those proposed in the Indiana bills and a comparable federal law enacted in the 1990s was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Arizona’s governor vetoed a bill last year that supporters said was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. But it drew blistering criticism from major corporations. A similar bill also failed last year in the Kansas Legislature.
Jane Henegar, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana’s executive director, said the proposals aren’t very specific and could easily let people or businesses claim that government actions burdened their exercise of religion, which could result in tax money being spent to defend the state against frivolous lawsuits.
The ACLU of Indiana represented gay couples in the federal lawsuit that led to the state’s same-sex marriage ban being overturned last year.
“The cries and the fear that religious liberties were going to be trampled upon just haven’t manifested,” she said, adding that the bill is unnecessary.
The leaders of two conservative lobbying groups didn’t return telephone messages Friday seeking comment on the proposals.
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