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Indiana Wesleyan measure stirs religion debate

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A measure designed to restore Indiana Wesleyan University's workforce training contract with the state unexpectedly raised debate about religious discrimination Monday in the General Assembly.

Republican State Rep. Eric Turner proposed amending Indiana's civil rights law to allow religious institutions doing business with the state to employ people based in part on their religious affiliation.

Turner filed the measure shortly after the state rejected a longstanding workforce training contract with Wesleyan. A lawyer with the attorney general's office determined language in the contract allowing the Christian university to hire in part based on religion violated state law.

The measure appeared headed for a full debate in the House on Monday afternoon, but House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, quickly pulled it from consideration, not long after outrage over the issue erupted on Twitter.

"There were concerns that it had complications beyond the Indiana Wesleyan contracting," Bosma said.

Neil Rush, Indiana Wesleyan's director of risk management, said the proposal would put the state in line with federal contracting guidelines, which allow for faith-based organizations to win federal contracts.

"It's just like a church. If you don't have a right to hire with a faith commensurate to (yours), sooner or later it's not going to look like much of a church," Rush said. "We're trying to maintain the same thing with our Christian university."

Rush said the university has been contracting with the state since 2006 to provide education and retraining for workers who lose their jobs when companies move operations overseas. But he said the university only recently ran into problems when a lawyer with the attorney general's office raised concerns about the university's ability to exclude employees based on religion.

Ken Falk, chief legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said Turner's proposal raises obvious concerns about whether the government is supporting religious discrimination.

"The question is, what does it mean to amend Indiana law to, in essence, allow discrimination on the grounds of religion?" Falk said. "Whereas that might make sense if you're talking about someone who has religious duties or even tangential religious duties, if, in fact, this law goes even further than that you have to wonder, why are we narrowing people's rights?"

The measure will be considered again when the House Ways and Means Committee meets Tuesday morning. House Republican spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said Turner would address the proposal then.

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  • As an employee of IWU...
    I can tell you that it's not just discrimination between Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. It's also discrimination with those who do not follow the Wesleyan denomination. In order to have the word "Wesleyan" in their name and be considered a Wesleyan college, they have to have a certain % of employees that also observe that denomination. So, beyond people of other faiths, they discriminate against other Christians as well. On the other hand, all the classes in the adult education programs have a Biblical study/devotional component (even the math classes), so I'm sure that those who are going to the school to get a Christian college experience would be upset if someone who didn't share a Christian faith would be leading the class.
  • Discrimination?
    I applaud Rep Turner's UNBIASED views of allowing Indiana Weslyan to continue to provide these services. From the quote from Mr. Faulk of the ACLU, it appears that the only discrimination in this case is AGAINST an organization that has any Religious conviction. As I read the constitution and the Bill of Rights, our founding fathers were intentionally establishing 'fredom OF relegion' not 'Freedom FROM religion' as the ACLU would want us to believe. The very act of prohibiting 'Faith based' organizations from participating in our federal or any other economy is what should be repulsive to all Americans who believe in our costly and hard earned feedoms. Take another look.
  • Turner Lacks Understaniding of Basic Rights
    After observing the proposals Eric Turner makes, you have to wonder if he understands the basic provisions of the US Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Turner appears to me to be a religious zealot.
  • Rendering unto Caesar?
    When you take government money the government gets to stick its nose into how you do business. I don't think Indiana Wesleyan or any other university, even if religiously based, should be able to discriminate in hiring. You want a math professor? Hire the best one you can find and afford. There is no such thing as Christian math, Jewish math or Islamic math, and if you think there is you may be Eric Turner.
  • Like a church?
    If you church has to contract with the state, it's not much of a church. Simple as that. If that money is paying for it, there should be absolutely no religious discrimination

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