News (USA)

Louisiana lawmaker says he’ll make changes to divisive religious objection bill

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana lawmaker said Tuesday that changes are coming to his divisive religious objections bill, a key piece of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative agenda that has run into sharp criticism over concerns that it could lead to discrimination against gays and other minorities.

“We are not in favor of discriminating against anyone,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, who sponsored the bill as a means to protect workers including wedding planners, photographers and bakers who object to working with gay couples but fear state retribution.

As written, the legislation would ban the state from denying any resident business licenses, benefits or tax deductions because of actions that person takes “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage.

Similar legislation has been proposed and is igniting strong debate in several other states this year.

One of the changes Johnson is offering would make clear that the proposal shall “not be construed to authorize any act of discrimination.”

That, in effect, waters down the bill so it “doesn’t do anything,” said Keith Werhan, a constitutional expert with Tulane University Law School who reviewed the proposed amendment.

“If you really parse the language, it’s not doing anything,” Werhan said. “It doesn’t provide any real protection, any serious protection to a religious believer.”

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The adjustments come as critics — including some lawmakers and LGBT activists — have questioned whether the bill would not just allow businesses and employers to discriminate against gay couples, but also interracial couples and those who remarry after a divorce.

“The bill never says ‘gay marriage,’ it doesn’t say ‘same-sex marriage,’ it just says ‘marriage’— so it could apply whether someone is opposed to interracial marriage, it could be gay marriage, it could be someone who is on their second or third marriage,” said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.

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