Law professors warn against Indiana religious freedom bill

A bill that proponents say would further protect religious freedom in Indiana “will more likely create confusion, conflict, and a wave of litigation” because it will confer a special status to religious rights, according to a letter signed by 30 law professors.

Senate Bill 101, framed as the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed the Senate on a 40-10 vote and has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. But the bill also has been widely opposed by groups from the Human Rights Campaign to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as a measure that would permit discrimination on religious grounds, particularly on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation.

Columbia University School of Law organized the letter sent Feb. 27 to Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis. The letter says the language of S.B. 101 does not mirror the federal RFRA and would harm constitutionally protected competing interests. The proposal is “a solution in search of a problem,” the professors say.

Signatories to the letter are legal scholars with expertise in religious freedom and civil rights and the interaction between those fields, the letter says. Signers represent 14 law schools.

Among the professors are a dozen from Indiana University Maurer School of Law including professors Jeannine Bell, Aviva Orenstein, Carwina Weng, Deborah Widiss and Susan H. Williams. Professors signing the letter from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law are: Shawn M. Boyne, Jeffrey O. Cooper, Jennifer Drobac, Rob Katz, Fran Quigley, Florence Wagman Roisman, and Lea Shaver.  

The letter predicts that if SB 101 is enacted in its present form, conflict, confusion and litigation are a predictable result “that will threaten the clarity of religious liberty rights in Indiana while undermining the state’s ability to enforce other compelling interests.
This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that
they have a religious justification for doing so,” the letter says.

“Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or a police officer’s private religious beliefs. … This collision of public rights and individual religious beliefs will produce a flood of litigation, whereby Indiana courts will be asked to rebalance what has been a workable and respectful harmony of rights and responsibilities in a pluralistic society,” according to the letter.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana will conduct a Statehouse rally at 8:30 a.m. Monday to urge defeat of SB 101. The organization says the bill would provide a license to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers.


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