Indiana Expected To Pass Bill That Could Legalize Discrimination Against LGBT Citizens

03/20/2015 01:37 pm ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015
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WASHINGTON -- Indiana is expected to pass a religious freedom bill that could legalize discrimination against LGBT citizens. The legislation has language that is similar to a bill that was vetoed by Arizona's former Republican governor last year after a national outcry.

The Indiana Senate passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last month and the bill is expected to get a full House vote as early as Monday. The legislation, which is co-authored by 13 Republicans, would allow any individual or corporation to cite their religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. This language is intended to protect people with strong religious beliefs, including business owners who don't want to serve same-sex couples.

“You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith,” Republican state Sen. Scott Schneider, one of the primary authors of the bill, told The Indianapolis Star last month.

But critics say this language opens a door to widespread discrimination. Like controversial legislation pushed in Arizona last year, Indiana's bill says that anyone who feels their exercise of religious freedom has been "burdened" may use that as a legal claim or defense, regardless of whether the government is a party in the proceeding.

Indiana, like Arizona, has municipalities with LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. But if the bill passes, someone residing in a city like Indianapolis could claim a nondiscrimination law doesn't apply to them, said Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU.

"This bill would give anyone the right to argue that they don’t have to follow state or local laws -- including basic civil rights laws related to employment, housing and public accommodations," she added.

The Human Rights Campaign, which opposes the legislation, said in a statement on Thursday that "if signed into law, this bill could empower police officers to refuse to patrol the areas around synagogues or mosques [and] allow doctors to withhold medically-necessary information from their patients."

A number of businesses have also expressed concern about how this legislation would affect the state's business climate. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce wrote that "this legislation threatens to undo years of progress we have made in positioning Indianapolis as a welcoming community."

The Arizona legislation was widely panned as a "Jim Crow-style" bill that could be used, for example, to kick someone out of a diner because of their sexual orientation. After national backlash, Arizona's then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the legislation last February on the basis that "it could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want."

But it looks like Indiana's legislation will pass. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that he expects the bill to prevail, and it has support from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R).

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