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Bill aims to replace Indiana's religious freedom law

January 9, 2016

Indiana lawmakers will consider a proposal that would throw out the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and replace it with a statute its sponsor says aims to protect six fundamental rights.

It is unclear how much support the bill might garner as legislators face a debate over a push to extend LGBT civil rights protections following last spring's uproar over whether the religious law law would permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Under the new bill, state government and courts would give "the greatest deference" on six issues: the state constitutional rights to worship, religion, exercise of religion, speech, assembly and bear arms.

Bill sponsor Sen. Michael Young, a Republican from Indianapolis, said the religious freedom law became too convoluted and should be replaced by recognizing the importance of multiple rights.

"We want those protected at the highest standard," Young said. "It protects our freedom."

Advocates of civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people maintain that Young's bill is aimed at derailing their push.

Peter Hanscom, of the business-backed pro-LGBT group Indiana Competes, said the proposal isn't a solution for concerns that the Legislature was legally permitting discrimination.

"Let's not address this by creating, potentially, another problem," Hanscom told WISH-TV.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Jan 20, but Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long has held back from fully endorsing it.

"What Sen. Young's bill will do if it gets a hearing — and I think it will — is to maybe go in a direction we should have gone and deal with all First Amendment rights, and not just one particular issue with religious rights but say all constitutional rights are equal, and maybe there ought to be a standard for all of them," Long said.

Indiana University law professor Robert Katz, who testified against adoption of the religious freedom law last year, questioned why the bill would enshrine only six of 37 sections of the state Constitution's Bill of Rights — including several religious rights — and leave out others, such as the right to equal privileges and immunities.

"It would effectively amend the Indiana Bill of Rights to create a two-tiered system of rights," Katz told The Indianapolis Star.

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