State Senate Committee Approves “Religious Freedom” Bill

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WOWO): Before any opponents to the bill were present, a state Senate committee approved a “religious freedom” bill that some claim would legalize discrimination. The bill (SB 101) is one of two in the Senate to be labeled a Religious Freedom Restoration Act by supporters, and it was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-to-0 in a vote taken before any of the committee's Democrats arrived for the committee's meeting.

It would not have made a difference since there are only three Democrats on the panel.

Backers of the bill say it mirrors the language of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993 and supported by a broad coalition of Republicans and Democrats. However, that law was passed in response to a Supreme Court ruling against a Native American tribe's use of the drug peyote as part of religious rituals. Indiana's bill comes one year after federal courts ruled that the state could not bar same-sex couples from getting married.

Supporters say businesses such as bakeries and florists should not have to serve gay couples if the business owner holds a religious belief against same-sex marriage. Unlike other states where some businesses have been sanctioned for refusing service to gay couples, Indiana does not have an anti-discrimination law covering gay people. Therefore, opponents say the “religious freedom” law is not needed. But opponents also argue that the bill attempts to provide state legal protection for discrimination, and they believe it is revenge for the demise of the state's same-sex marriage ban. A similar bill in the House has not received a hearing yet and likely will not before Thursday's deadline to move bills out of committee.