Geoff Lessar, State legislators met with questions at Elkhart Third House meeting regarding RFRA and LGBTQ protection, The Elkhart Truth

Questions surrounding the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act and LGBTQ community protection were hurled at state lawmakers Saturday morning, April 18, at Elkhart’s final Third House meeting of the legislative session.

Elkhart County representatives Sen. Joe Zakas, Rep. Doug Miller, Rep. Curt Nisly and Rep. Tim Wesco addressed the crowd of about 55 people with updates on the General Assembly, in addition to specific answers during the Q&A portion of the forum.

Wesco broached the topic of Senate Bill 101, also known as RFRA, early in his initial address. He made clear his own lengthy process that led to understanding the language of the legislation.

Wesco joined a majority of Republicans who later supported the revised version of RFRA following a political uproar that gained national attention.

Ultimately, Nisly was the only area Republican who did not vote in support of the revised law.

Wesco, who attended the original bill’s signing ceremony with Gov. Mike Pence, echoed continued frustrations over the issue.

Saturday’s meeting was the first Third House in Elkhart since lawmakers approved the revised law.

“This bill wasn’t about guaranteeing religious freedom — that’s already guaranteed. This bill was about establishing a judicial standard, which you actually have to know a lot about case law and history to really understand what that judicial standard is,” Wesco said, “and the difference between a strict scrutiny and a rational basis and how courts apply this.

“Frankly, it took me a couple of weeks to come to the point where I really understood what the bill is about, because you have to spend case law after case law, see how the courts applied and how it’s changed over the last 30, 40, 50 years.”

One attendee sought succinct responses to a question surrounding the idea of establishing protections for LGBTQ within the state’s constitution.

“I’m sure next year, not this year, there will be an attempt to add sexual orientation as a protected class under the civil rights act,” said Dr. Jim Barnes. “And I would like each of you to say, yes or no, would you support that?”

Nisly weighed in with little hesitation between the question and his response.

“I believe in equal protection under law. And everyone should be treated equally,” Nisly said. “I am opposed, though, of giving different people different sets of rights, so I would be a ‘no’ on the special class.”

“I am not in favor of adding them to that protected class,” he continued.

Wesco, one of the House sponsors of RFRA, was initially apprehensive to oblige Barnes’ request for a one-word answer. Wesco cited the complexity of such legislation and its need for thorough review and understanding before taking a public stance on the issue.

After prodding from the crowd, Wesco submitted. “Let me give you my answer — no,” he said.

Although members of the crowd encouraged legislators to speak on personal opinion, Zakas took a non-committal approach to the query.

“I don’t think it’s a yes or no question until you learn more about and can get testimony on what the issue is all about,” Zakas said. “It’s unfair to ask a question like that.”

The conversation shifted to another topic before Miller could answer, but he announced he was still in favor of RFRA and its recent amendment barring any and all discrimination in the form of Senate Bill 50.

“You know we had the RFRA legislation come before us. I will tell you all I’m still comfortable with my vote,” Miller said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the state of Indiana. I’m comfortable with my vote on the clarification of that. I think that goes a long way to say that, ‘Indiana is a great state. We welcome everyone.’”

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