Religion measure now up to Pence

In a few days, Gov. Mike Pence plans to put an end to the debate between Hoosiers favoring the strengthening of protection for people with religious objections to certain activities and those who believe those efforts could lead to discrimination.

Senate Bill 101 passed the House 63-21 this week after receiving Senate approval in February, and Pence has said he plans to sign it into law today.

“The legislation, SB101, is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact,” Pence said in a statement. “I strongly support the legislation and applaud the members of the General Assembly for their work on this important issue. I look forward to signing the bill when it reaches my desk.”

Those in support of the measure said it will prevent the government from forcing people to provide services to activities they find objectionable because of religious beliefs.

State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, who sponsored the bill in the House and voted in favor of it, said the proposal does not allow for discrimination, which is prohibited by existing laws.

That protection stems from the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act enacted about 20 years ago and signed by President Bill Clinton, he said.

“Since then, 30 other states have adopted RFRAs, and these do not allow discrimination, as is being so widely and falsely reported,” he said.

Opponents of the measure call it a “license to discriminate” and say it allows business owners and some organizations to get away with not serving certain people — such as same-sex couples — because of religious beliefs.

The founder of Seymour’s chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays said it could create an image of the state as being intolerant, which could in turn lead to economic damage.

“It will have a negative impact on my family personally, and I think it has a negative impact on many other families, Indiana’s image and on commerce,” Rhea Murray said.

Murray, who has a gay son, said that if the bill passes businesses that will not serve people of different religious beliefs should post a sign outside to warn customers before they enter and face possible humiliation by being refused service.

“How will they be able to screen?” she asked. “Some people don’t believe in drinking wine, so can a business owner deny me services?”

A spokesman with one of the area’s largest employers, Cummins Inc., said the legislation runs counter to the company’s core values of respecting diversity and demanding mutual respect of all people.

When Indiana creates an atmosphere that makes the state less welcoming, it is more difficult to attract and retain the best and brightest employees, which is crucial in a global environment, said Jon Mills, director of external communications for Cummins Inc.

Lucas said there is strict judicial scrutiny that has to be met and people cannot wantonly discriminate.

“Refusal to serve someone is subject to strict scrutiny in a court of law; and RFRAs require government, when interfering in someone’s religious beliefs, to have a compelling government interest,” he said. “If a court determines the government has a compelling interest, the state must restrict religion in the least restrictive means necessary.”

He said the timing is based on the fact it will give Indiana courts the guidelines necessary to deal with cases springing up around the country related to religious freedoms.

The bill is co-authored by state Sens. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, and Brent Steele, R-Bedford.

Steele, who represents Senate District 44, generally did not comment on the measure, leaving that to Schneider, who is the lead author. Steele’s district includes Brownstown, Carr, Driftwood, Hamilton, Jackson, Owen, Pershing, Redding and Salt Creek townships in Jackson County.

Schneider said that by passing the act the state is simply making sure people of faith in Indiana have adequate protection from government infringement.

“The right of each person to practice his or her religious faith is one of America’s foundation principles,” he said in a statement. “By passing this bill in the General Assembly, we are one step closer to ensuring the protection of Hoosiers’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion.”

The Republic, a sister paper of The Tribune, contributed to this story.

At a glance