Indiana lawmaker to introduce bill focused on religious freedom

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 29, 2014)-- A debate over religious freedom is set to take over the Statehouse when the new session begins next week.

State Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis) said he’ll introduce his Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Supporters point to the Hobby Lobby case as a prime example, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled family-owned corporations don’t have to cover contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

“This bill, which I plan to author this session, would match federal law in the state of Indiana,” Schneider said in a statement to FOX59. “The language of the measure is still being finalized.”

Critics, though, are quick to question how far the bill will extend, like allowing small businesses to refuse service to gay couples.

“It’s obviously discriminatory against, like I said, any group,” Chris Paulsen said, president of Indiana Equality Action. “And that’s the way it will be used is in a discriminatory manner, even if Sen. Schneider doesn’t mean it that way.”

Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said 19 other states have passed similar laws.

“We believe there’s discrimination against people of faith that’s occurring,” he said. “You have to balance that out, and I think there’s this conflict right now between people of faith and certain government actions that we’re trying to prohibit with this law.”

Neither supporters nor opponents are surprised such a proposal is in the works, given an increased number of gay marriage rulings nationwide.

“The point is when you have this type of law, you don’t know what the implications are,” said Ken Falk with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana. “And in fact if you look at the Hobby Lobby case and you look at the dissent, the dissent is saying this is opening up Pandora ’s Box of people stepping forward and saying I don’t want to do this because of my religious beliefs.”

Schneider said the bill would match the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

“I think all along there has been a growing concern among our supporters that religious liberties are under attack, and there is more and more hostility toward it,” Clark said.

Critics said they’ll be watching closely.

“I think it will be a lot of time wasted on something that most Hoosiers don’t want,” Paulsen said.

The new legislative session begins on January 6.