Indiana isn’t alone in religious freedom battle, debate heightens nationwide

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INDIANAPOLIS (March 25, 2015) - Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard was the latest Wednesday to publicly criticize the state’s religious freedom bill, now awaiting Gov. Mike Pence’s signature.

In a statement Ballard said, “I don’t believe this legislation truly represents our state or our capital city. Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents.”

Days after the Indiana General Assembly gave its final seal of approval, reaction is stronger than ever. But at the same time, Indiana is not the first state to undergo a heated debate over religious freedom.

The debate has actually been ongoing for decades.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1997 the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act didn’t apply to states, it sent statehouses nationwide swirling to reinforce the law locally.

Right now, 19 states have a religious freedom law on the books, some for years.

“To date there has been no successful claim that I’m aware of anywhere in the country, even by a wedding vendor who asserts a religious objection, to provide services to a wedding,” Daniel Conkle told lawmakers yesterday, a professor at the IU Maurer School of Law.

But a new push in 2015 has re-energized and politicized the debate.

At least 10 states including Indiana are pushing through new or stronger religious freedom measures this session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The reason? Swift reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which said the government can’t force companies to pay for insurance coverage of contraception.

“It’s still up to state courts to make a decision whether a person has a sincere religious belief and whether that belief is significantly burdened by a law,” Jon Griffin said, with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Arizona last year, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar religious freedom bill.

“The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences,” she said at the time.

Those unintended consequences, like what happened in Arizona, is what many who are opposed to Indiana’s bill fear, even though the authors have stated that’s not the intention or eventual result.

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