Today, the Indiana Senate is expected to take up SB 344, a flawed non-discrimination bill. There are so many reasons to oppose this bill, including that it fails to offer any protections for transgender Hoosiers. But in this post, we’d like to look at the vast and broad religious exemptions in the bill. Although SB 344 may offer some (insufficient) non-discrimination protections, it also would provide a religious trump card to nullify those protections. The bill also contains religious exemptions that would undermine rights and protections guaranteed by other state and local laws and policies.
Under this bill, the parameters of one person’s rights would be subject to another individual’s or entity’s personal, religious litmus test. That is simply unfair.
The ways in which individuals and entities could use religion to discriminate under this bill are numerous and varied. They include:
- Discrimination by state contractors and grantees: The bill would allow organizations that receive state grants and contracts to discriminate in who they serve and hire. They could also take funds from the state and refuse to perform services that are key to the contract.
For example, a homeless shelter that receives state money could refuse to house a same-sex couple. An entity could receive taxpayer funds to offer community medical services, but then refuse to offer information about, referrals for, or access to any healthcare services they object to, whether blood transfusions, psychiatric care, HIV prevention or treatment, or reproductive health services. And, a food bank run on state funds could refuse to hire a kitchen worker because she is divorced or a single mother.
- Discrimination by adoption agencies: Adoption agencies could ignore what is in the best interest of the child and refuse to place that child in a loving, stable family in the name of religion.
- Discrimination by employees of commercial wedding service providers: Employees could refuse to provide goods or services relating to marriages of same-sex couples. The employer would still be required to provide the services, but it is unclear how he or she could do so if all of the employees were to opt out.
This bill would also prohibit local governments from granting new nondiscrimination protections that are broader and more protective than state law. This means that local governments are required to include the same harmful religious exemptions that are included in SB 344. Local governments would be prohibited to righting the wrongs enshrined by this bill.
The State of Indiana can do better. It should adopt a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill with teeth, not one that grants a religious trump card to undermine the protections it creates.