Appeal set on challenge to Indiana religious objections law

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Conservative religious groups are planning to appeal an Indiana judge’s ruling that canceled a trial challenging limits on the state’s religious objections law that were signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence.

Terre Haute attorney James Bopp filed the notice Dec. 20 but hasn’t yet submitted any arguments regarding the appeal. That action comes after a Hamilton County judge ruled in November that the groups failed to prove they had faced any harm, agreeing with arguments the state and four cities made that the organizations lacked standing to sue. 

The lawsuit argues the groups’ constitutional rights were violated by changes the Republican-dominated Legislature made to the 2015 law – known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA – after a national uproar over whether it could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Those revisions blocked its use as a legal defense for refusing to provide services and prevented the law from being used to override local ordinances with LGBT protections.

The judge’s November ruling didn’t address the lawsuit’s merits claims, including that the changes threaten to hinder the organizations’ ability to speak out against same-sex marriages and expose them to claims of discrimination in hiring.

Bopp, who represents the Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Family Action and the American Family Association of Indiana, argued during an October hearing that they were subject to “grotesque stripping” of their religious rights by the Legislature. Bopp didn’t immediately reply to messages seeking comment about the planned appeal.

The lawsuit also challenges local civil rights ordinances that include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Indianapolis, Carmel, Bloomington and Columbus, which is Pence’s hometown.

The religious organizations previously secured a victory in the litigation when a judge in November 2016 declined to dismiss the case on standing grounds. But in renewing the standing issue in October 2019, defense attorneys said the case is now in a different procedural posture that made summary judgment for the defendant-cities appropriate.

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