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Part 1 of 2:
2015-MAY: Louisiana: Bill HB707 to allow
discrimination against the LGBT community,
etc. fails. Governor Jindal (R) supports the bill.

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map of US with Louisiana highlighted

Map of the U.S. with Louisiana highlighted

A second meaning to the term "religious freedom:"

In the past, the term "religious freedom" referred to freedom of religious beliefs, assembly, speech, writing, proselytizing, etc. But in recent years, a new, hateful meaning of the term has become common: the religious freedom for individuals and companies to discriminate against others.

Such activity is a violation of the Golden Rule which says that a person should treat others as that person would like others to treat them in return.

Actively discriminating against others is far removed from treating others as one would wish to be treated.

For Christians, two passages in the Gospels explain this rule. Jesus is quoted as instructing his followers:

  • "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

  • "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

All the other main religions in the world have rules of behavior very similar to the Golden Rule.

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A new type of state law: the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs):

A series of RFRAs have been introduced into the Legislatures of any states. Their purpose is generally described as protecting people's religious freedom. However, in reality, they actually protect people's "religious freedom to discriminate." Their main goal is to help owners of public accommodations to discriminate against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual community (LGBT), as well as discriminate against other groups and individuals.

"Public Accommodations" are for-profit companies -- often retail outlets. They are typically stores set up to provide goods and services to the general public. Across the U.S., a few dozen wedding cake bakers, wedding photographers, wedding venue providers and other Public Accommodations in the marriage business have refused requests from potential customers. The requests typically come from same-sex couples planning to marry. As a result of this discrimination, some companies have run afoul of local and state Human Rights laws. Those laws generally protect customers from discrimination based on their skin color, race, gender, religion, etc. Sometimes, sexual orientation and gender identity are added as additional protected groups. RFRAs give public accommodations immunity from these Human Rights laws, as long as the discrimination being practices is based on the owner's religious beliefs.

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2015: House Bill HB707 was introduced to the Louisiana House:

State Representative Mike Johnson (R) introduced a RFRA bill into the Louisiana House. It is HB707, the Marriage and Conscience Act. Frank Hoffman (R) is a co-author. 1

Under the present circumstances, there is no real need for this bill, because the State of Louisiana is one of the 13 states that does not allow same-sex couples to marry. However, a case that is before the U.S. Supreme Court called Obergefell v. Hodges may overturn that ban. The High Court held a hearing on Obergefell during 2015-APR-28. Their ruling is expected during late 2015-JUN or early July. It may legalize same-sex marriage in Louisiana and the 12 other states and five U.S. Territories where such marriages are currently banned.

HB707 is a proactive bill that anticipates a ruling in favor of marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court that would allow same-sex couples in Louisiana to marry. If HB707 is passed into law it would also protect those who want to discriminate against interracial couples, inter-faith couples, and other couples or individuals on any grounds related to religious belief.

Under HB707's section titled "Legislative Findings, point 4 states:

"Laws that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs or moral convictions about marriage will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate similar tolerance and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse and peaceful society."

However, the past impact of these "freedom to discriminate" laws tend to have the opposite effect. They encourage private citizens, businesses and institutions to demonstrate intolerance against minorities and thereby contribute to a less respectful and less peaceful society.

The bill was referred to the Louisiana Legislature's Committee on Civil Law and Procedure. The bill received heavy support from the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian parachurch group. It was opposed by many in the business, civil rights, and LGBT communities. Opposition also came from Democratic lawmakers, Independents, a few Republican lawmakers, and some mainline and liberal faith leaders.

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Governor Bobbie Jindal promised to support the RFRA bill:

On 2015-APR-13, Governor Bobby Jindal delivered his State of the State address. He said that one of his top three priorities was to see the passage into law of a religious freedom law patterned after the earlier Indiana bill. He said:

"... there is a nationwide push by the far left to weaken the first amendment to the Constitution:

'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. ...'

We either believe in religious liberty or we don't. In Louisiana, I believe we do. I know there has been legislation filed this session that aims to protect religious liberty rights in Louisiana. Let me be crystal clear – I absolutely intend to fight for the passage of this legislation -– and [for] any other that seeks to preserve our most fundamental freedoms. And let me be clear about something else: in Louisiana, we do not support discrimination, and we do support religious liberty, and we believe that we can uphold both of those values simultaneously.

The truth is, this should not be a conservative vs liberal debate. Last I checked, we were all in favor of the Bill of Rights. And here in Louisiana, as long as I'm your Governor, we will protect religious liberty and not apologize for it.

I want to directly address the legislation that was filed to protect these freedoms in Louisiana and clear up some falsehoods about the bill we have already started to hear. All this bill does is provide necessary protections for individuals to prevent adverse treatment from the state based on religious beliefs regarding marriage. This legislation DOES NOT allow a restaurant or industry to refuse service to a gay or lesbian person. The law merely ensures the state cannot deny a license, certification, accreditation, or contracts, to a person or a business on the basis of their sincerely held religious belief about marriage. It does NOT provide a right for a business owner to discriminate against gays or lesbians.

I think we can all agree that the government should never force someone to participate in a marriage ceremony against their will. But today, people, charities and family-owned businesses are at risk of being penalized by the state because they believe in the traditional definition of marriage.

Regardless of your beliefs about the definition of marriage, we should all respect the right of our neighbors to hold a different view.

There used to be bipartisan support for the principle of religious liberty. However, these days, some think diversity of belief is too risky and scary to be tolerated. But that's wrong. In America we should celebrate diversity of belief. Diversity of belief and religious liberty are the foundation of our law and Constitution and they should be protected.

In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination." 2

In reality, the RFRA bill has nothing directly to do with people's beliefs. It would guarantee the right of people in Louisiana to take discriminatory action on any religious grounds, in violation of the Golden Rule.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Louisiana HB707, the "Marriage and Conscience Act," Louisiana Legislature, at: https://www.legis.la.gov/
  2. "Jindal's goals: Balance budget, religious freedom, dumping Common Core," WWL-TV, 2015-APR-13, at: http://www.wwltv.com
  3. Adam Talbot, "Governor Jindal: Is Legalizing Discrimination Really the Best You’ve Got for Louisiana?," Human Rights Campaign blog, 2015-APR-15, at: http://www.hrc.org/
  4. Ryan Rowe, "Anti-LGBT Bill Derailed in Louisiana," Human Rights Campaign blog, 2015-MAY-19, at: http://www.hrc.org/
  5. Emily Lane, "Bobby Jindal plans to issue an executive order enforcing intent of religious freedom bill," The Times-Picayune, 2015-MAY-19, at: http://www.nola.com/

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2015-MAY-21
Last updated 2015-MAY-21-
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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