Indiana passes new Religious Freedom Restoration Act

By: Alexa Grigsby*

(Photo courtesy of http://news.richmond.edu/)

(Photo courtesy of http://news.richmond.edu/)

Indiana governor Mike Pence signed what some call a “controversial” Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Enrolled Act No. 101) on 26 March 2015. This makes Indiana the 20th state to pass a law of its kind in the United States, following in the footsteps of other states such as Texas. But unlike many of these states, Indiana does not have any form of nondiscrimination law or ordinance protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. Thus, there is a possibility that the Indiana RFRA would allow for people of faith to deny services to LGBTQ individuals on the grounds of their religious beliefs. This possibility is what led to protests over the passing of the law.

Texas, too, has a similar law, located in Chapter 110 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, and like many states and the Federal Government, it does not identify sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has held that discrimination based on gender identity is discrimination based on sex, which is a protected class. Texas’ RFRA states that:

  • A government agency may not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion, and
  • A person whose free exercise of religion has been substantially burdened may assert that violation as a defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.

Governor Pence appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos shortly after the passage of Indiana’s RFRA to discuss whether or not the law would allow for discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Governor Pence did not answer the question directly, but he stated that “if the general assembly in Indiana sends [him] a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is, and has been for the last 20 years, then [he is] open to that.”

Indiana state legislators followed through, proposing Engrossed Senate Bill No. 50. This bill establishes that the RFRA may not be used to deny services to any members of the general public, regardless of race, religion, color, sex, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.

No such stipulations exist on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Texas RFRA that was passed in 1999, but Texas cities and counties have adopted ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Plano passed an Equal Rights Policy in December of 2014, for example.

For more information about LGBTQ rights in Texas, see our blog “LGBTQ in the State of Texas: Rights and Protections.” For any students seeking information on their legal rights, please contact Student Legal and Mediation Services by phone at (936) 294-1717, email at slms@shsu.edu, or visit us in the LSC Room #330.

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