INDIANAPOLIS (March 16, 2015) – After four hours of debate Monday, a House committee passed a controversial religious freedom bill, which would allow Indiana business owners to refuse service to customers based on their religious beliefs. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, mirrored after federal legislation, passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 9-4 vote, sending it to the full House for debate.
Grassroots efforts on both sides the measure rallied early at the Statehouse.
Supporters of the bill carried signs that read “Protect religious freedom.” They argue the measure is needed to protect Indiana business owners from too much government control.
“It’s absolutely necessary we keep that a top priority because it will affect you and I,” Phillip Messer said, who drove two hours to the Statehouse to support the bill.
Opponents, who also rallied before the hearing, decry the measure as legalized discrimination.
“We already have religious freedom in Indiana, so this is just a solution in search of a problem,” Katie Blair said, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana.
Dozens of people testified before committee members, conflicted over whether the bill would in fact allow Indiana business owners to refuse specific services based on religious beliefs.
Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life, laid out numerous scenarios he said needs protection.
“I can tell you for a pro-life business owner in the state of Indiana to do a catering business specifically for the purpose of raising funds to advance the killing of unborn children would be a direct violation of that person’s faith,” he said.
But Jessica Barth, vice president of legal affairs and chief counsel for Eskenazi Health, said the law could create conflicts.
“Our patients might believe they could be denied care because of a staff member’s religious belief about them or their families.”
The bill’s author told FOX59 that wasn’t the aim of the bill.
“It really has less to do with that and more to do with what government does,” said state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis. “There’s really no history of the assertions the other side is making with this bill, yet that seems to be getting the entire traction in this conversation.”
The measure has already passed the state Senate.
Gov. Mike Pence’s office said he will review the bill once it reaches his desk.