Johnson introduced the bill in the aftermath of religious freedom skirmishes in Arkansas andIndiana. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence (R) was forced to clarify his law under widespread national criticism. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison (R) similarly sent the religious freedom bill back to the state legislature.
Johnson’s legislation blocks the government from taking away tax benefits or businesses licenses or imposing fines because of a business owner’s views on gay marriage, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. But critics argue the bill, like with Indiana or Arkansas, would effectively allow businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples if gay marriage becomes legal in the state.
Leaders at IBM, which has a large presence in Baton Rouge, recently sent a letter to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) which echoed the concerns of other companies who have argued religious freedom legislation creates hostile work environments for some employees. When asked his response to the bill after the letter was made public, Republican Baton Rouge Metro City Councilman John Delgado called Johnson a “despicable bigot of the highest order.”
On Monday, Johnson sat down with the Times-Picayune to defend his legislation. He said “this is not the debate that was held in Indiana or Arkansas. We had those debates in Louisiana five years ago when we passed our religious freedom restoration act, as they did.”
Johnson went on to say that his proposal “was a different bill, it’s a new concept and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to clarify that.”