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Right-wing groups sue over “fix” to Indiana’s RFRA law

A coalition of right-wing organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the "fix" to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act

(Photo: Famartin, via Wikimedia Commons).

A coalition of right-wing organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the “fix” to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It’s an action sure to shine an even brighter spotlight on the lack of legal protections for LGBT people in the state.

The lawsuit, brought by Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Family Action, and The American Family Association of Indiana, seeks to overturn the “fix” that lawmakers implemented after the state received a large amount of backlash for the passing the RFRA, which opponents said would essentially condone discrimination against LGBT people. The lawsuit also seeks to challenge the constitutionality of the Carmel, Ind., and Indianapolis-Marion County nondiscrimination ordinances, arguing that the measures violate the religious liberty of those who oppose homosexuality.

“RFRA originally protected all religious viewpoints and insured a high level of protection for people’s free exercise of religion. The ‘fix,’ however, stripped that protection based on a person’s particular religious view, such as, opposition to same-sex marriage,” James Bopp, Jr., the attorney for the plaintiffs said in a statement. “This pits some religions that the government protects against other religions that will suffer government punishment if they don’t fall in line.  We believe this discrimination between religious views is unconstitutional.”

Curt Smith, the president of the Indiana Family Institute, argues that the “fix” to the RFRA law — which was embraced by Gov. Mike Pence (R) — “makes people of faith second-class citizens.”

But LGBT advocates blasted attempts to declare the fix unconstitutional.

“RFRA taught us that Hoosiers have no tolerance for creating a license to discriminate against those who have historically been treated unequally,” Jen Wagner, a spokeswoman for the LGBT rights group Freedom Indiana, said in a statement. “We hope lawmakers ignore this distraction and listen instead to the voices of job creators, faith and community leaders, local public servants, grassroots supporters and families who want our state to be a safe, welcoming place for all people.”

Freedom Indiana, various LGBT advocates, and Indiana Competes, a coalition of more than 150 pro-LGBT businesses, are all pushing for a state law guaranteeing nondiscrimination protections in housing, employment and public accommodations. They also point to the RFRA backlash earlier this year as evidence that being anti-gay is not good for the state’s reputation.

Lacking a nondiscrimination law, they say, makes businesses reticent to relocate to Indiana, and makes it harder for those already in the state to draw attract talent, thereby limiting the state’s economic potential. Last month, Freedom Indiana delivered 5,000 letters to lawmakers calling for such protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

GOP leaders in the Indiana Senate have proposed a bill that purports to grant such protections, but would carve out specific religious exemptions for those who object to homosexuality. LGBT advocates argue that the proposed bill’s exemptions are far too broad, and will have an unintentional consequence of facilitating, rather than stopping, discrimination. They also criticize the bill for discouraging people from filing discrimination complaints, and preempting individual towns and counties from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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