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UPDATE: 'Religious freedom' bill gets more corporate criticism

March 19, 2015

Some Indiana lawmakers are questioning whether safety regulations approved last year for church and home day cares could be threatened if a proposal to extend greater protections for religious objections becomes state law.

Meanwhile, Scott McCorkle, the CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, publicly voiced his objections to the measure in a letter to the Indiana General Assembly.

"We have been an active member of the Indiana business community and a key job creator for more than a decade," McCorkle wrote. "Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity or sexual orientation."

Other big businesses, including Cummins Inc., have also expressed concerns about the legislation.

Supporters of the Republican-backed measure say they don't believe day care standards are at risk, although courts could ultimately decide whether they violate religious liberties.

Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, said social conservatives who long fought those regulations will cite religious freedoms in trying to have them overturned.

"I do believe this is just another way for them to get around protecting children in day cares," said Summers, who was an advocate over several years of setting standards for church and home child care operations.

The law approved by legislators last year requires day cares that receive taxpayer money to meet safety and nutritional standards and follow limits on the number of children each caretaker can oversee at one time.

The religious objections bill could be voted on by the House next week after it cleared the Senate on a party-line vote last month.

Supporters say the proposal is aimed at protecting religious freedom and preventing the government from compelling people to be involved in activities they consider objectionable, such as same-sex weddings.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked Indiana University law professor Robert Katz, an opponent of the proposal, during a House committee hearing on Monday whether it could be used in court challenges to the day care regulations.

Katz said he believed religious objections could potentially be cited in many instances.

"It puts an asterisk to every statute and ordinance in the Indiana code," he said. "We don't know what that will result in."

Opposition to the day care standards was led for many years by prominent conservative lobbyist Eric Miller, the executive director of Advance America, on the grounds they were government interference in church ministries.

Miller's organization has encouraged churches to support the religious objections bill, saying it would protect people such as bakers or photographers from being required to provide services for gay weddings. The Associated Press left telephone messages for him Wednesday seeking comment.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, a sponsor of the religious freedom bill, said no one has ever mentioned to him the possibility of using it in a lawsuit over the day care standards.

"I think those higher standards are OK if you're receiving government money," said Kruse, R-Auburn.

The bill under consideration would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and has a definition of a "person" that includes religious institutions, corporations, partnerships and associations.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, said he's been assured that expanded religious protections couldn't overturn the day care regulations that he sponsored last year.

"The consistent message I'm getting is, the state has a responsibility to protect kids," Mahan said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican who supports the religious freedom bill, said he didn't believe it would threaten the day care law.

"The compelling state interest here would, most likely, be the interest in protecting young children," Bosma said. "But, of course, that would be for a court to decide."

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