News (USA)

‘Religious freedom’ debate headed to Louisiana Capitol

Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.

BATON ROUGE, La. — The uproar over religious freedom laws that drew national attention in Indiana and Arkansas appears headed to Louisiana.

A newly-elected state lawmaker from Bossier City filed a religious objections bill Friday for consideration in the Louisiana legislative session that begins April 13.

The proposal by Republican Rep. Mike Johnson would ban the state from denying licenses, certifications, employment, contracts, benefits or tax deductions because of actions a person takes “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage.

In a posting on the conservative political blog The Hayride, Johnson said the bill would protect people from penalties by the state because of their beliefs on marriage.

Equality Louisiana, a gay rights organization, said Johnson’s proposal would allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender people.

“While the bill clearly is targeting gay and transgender people by focusing on religious beliefs about marriage, it is also creating the possibility of unintended consequences,” said Equality Louisiana, in a statement. “HB 707 aims to make actions legal – such as denying the same sex spouse of an employee access to life-saving benefits such as health insurance. It may, however, also open the door to the possibility of denying those same benefits to couples in which one partner has been divorced, interracial couples and married couples from different religious traditions than their employers.”

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The governors of Indiana and Arkansas signed bills Thursday hoping to quiet the national outcry over whether the laws offered a legal defense for discrimination against gays. In Arkansas, the changes more closely aligned the bill with the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Indiana law was amended to bar a religious liberty defense by for-profit businesses accused of discrimination for refusing to serve someone based on sexual orientation, but left in place protections for faith-based nonprofits.

In Georgia, a similar bill was passed in the Senate, but stalled in House committee amid uproar in Indiana and Arkansas; lawmakers adjourned Thursday without voting on the measure.

On Friday, Nevada lawmakers dropped two similar proposals there.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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