Marriage Debate: Gov. Jindal Signs Executive Order Protecting Religious Freedom

Margaret Knapp | May 27, 2015 | 9:07am EDT
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) --  Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order May 19th to block the state government from pulling licenses, tax exemptions, grants, and other benefits from companies because of their owners' views on same-sex marriage or other deeply held religious beliefs.

The executive order carries out the original objectives of a bill sponsored by state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) in support of religious freedom, which died in committee hours before the executive order was issued.

“It is of preeminent importance that government take no adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with his religious beliefs that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, but that this principle not be construed to authorize any act of discrimination,” the executive order stated.

Jindal said he believes that the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on same-sex marriage in June may be too late to preserve the religious freedom of Louisiana residents who believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

“This is even bigger than marriage…It's the right to live your lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to your sincerely held religious beliefs," the governor stated last Tuesday.

The executive order cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which Jindal signed in 2010, which prohibits the government from “imposing a substantial burden upon a person’s exercise of religion absent a compelling governmental interest and show that the action taken is the least restrictive means of furthering” it.

However, many LGBT advocates, including Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow, viewed Jindal’s executive order as a way for businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. Some business owners also claimed that possible perception of the order as discriminatory would cause Louisiana to lose millions of dollars in tax revenue and tourism.

But Johnson, sponsor of the original bill proposed, stated that the numbers projected by opponents of the measure were unsubstantiated. “So much of this is based on mischaracterization of the bill,” he said after the executive order was signed in Jindal’s office.

Johnson told CNSNews.com that  “it’s not only non-profit organizations and religious organizations but also religious individuals and small business owners. Anyone who tries to live out their faith in the marketplace is potentially a target, specifically those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

“Most of us expect that the court is going to recognize same-sex marriage in one form or another as a fundamental right. If they do, then you’re going to have activists that cannot or will not tolerate dissent,” he added.

“So they’re going to come after Christian business owners and Christian, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish institutions and organizations and they’re going to say ‘Didn’t you hear? The Supreme Court declared this a fundamental right. If you don’t go along with it, you’re going to be run out of the marketplace'."

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) claimed that Johnson’s bill could have caused problematic situations. He offered the scenario of state-paid teachers refusing to meet with their students’ married gay parents, in which case the teachers could not be fired.

But Johnson dismissed such concerns, calling them “completely unfounded”.

“The first response was ‘that’s a pretty far-fetched scenario.’ No one could ever think of that happening before, [and] there’s no indication of that happening in the future,” he told CNSNews.com. “If it did, all our House bill did in that scenario was the teacher might be punished by the local school board or reprimanded in some way. That’s a local issue and it doesn’t have anything to do with the state government.”

Johnson went on to say that although he’s not sure of all the different ways the issue of gay marriage could come up, Jindal’s executive order was not in any way created to form a new right to discriminate. In the marketplace, people already have discretion with regard to whom they serve, he added.

On April 28th when the U.S. Supreme Court first heard oral arguments, the Solicitor General admitted to the court that the tax-exempt status of religious institutions will be in jeopardy if the justices recognize same-sex marriage. Johnson argued that if tax-exempt status of religious institutions were to be challenged over their refusal to accept same-sex marriage, then other things like business licenses and certifications would also be an issue.

“The issue is not going away and sadly, there’ll be an even greater sense of urgency as the days and months progress," Johnson told CNSNews.com. "We applaud the executive order...but ultimately, we have to get this [religious freedom] enshrined in our statutes."

    
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