April 13, 2015 at 11:59 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Jindal makes religious freedom bill a legislative priority

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana, Republican Party, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) has called for passage of religious freedom legislation in Louisiana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite controversy in Indiana and Arkansas over attempts to enact religious freedom legislation seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, Gov. Bobby Jindal made passage of such legislation in Louisiana on Monday a legislative priority in his “State of the State” address.

In his remarks, which were delivered at the Statehouse in Baton Rouge at the start of the legislative session, Jindal articulated three priorities: the budget, education reform and religious freedom.

“I know there has been legislation filed this session that aims to protect religious liberty rights in Louisiana,” Jindal said. “Let me be crystal clear – I absolutely intend to fight for the passage of this legislation – and any other that seeks to preserve our most fundamental freedoms.”

Despite his call for passage of the religious freedom legislation, Jindal insisted Louisiana opposes discrimination, but added “we can uphold both of those values simultaneously.”

“The truth is, this should not be a conservative vs liberal debate.” Jindal said. “Last I checked, we were all in favor of the Bill of Rights. And here in Louisiana, as long as I’m your governor, we will protect religious liberty and not apologize for it.”

The legislation, House Bill 707, prohibits the state from taking adverse action against a person for expressing a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage.

The bill, also known as “Marriage and Conscience Act,” is more broad than the Indiana law because it applies not just to religious beliefs, but moral convictions, and explicitly prohibits tax penalties and fines as possible actions from government.

Jindal, who is known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and anti-LGBT views, attempted to tamp down concerns about the legislation during his speech, saying the bill would not allow businesses to discriminate or to refuse services to gay and lesbian people.

“The law merely ensures the state cannot deny a license, certification, accreditation, or contracts, to a person or a business on the basis of their sincerely held religious belief about marriage,” Jindal said.

Same-sex marriage is currently not legal in Louisiana, but that could change soon after the U.S. Supreme Court issues a nationwide ruling on the issue. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also seems poised to strike down the same-sex marriage ban in Louisiana — as well as laws in Texas and Mississippi — as a result of pending litigation.

According to the Associated Press, even though Jindal supports the bill, leaders in the Republican-controlled state legislature have a different view. Senate President John Alario opposes the legislation, reportedly saying “it puts Louisiana in a light of hatred and bigotry and discrimination.”

Additionally, at the start of the legislative session, the bill wasn’t sent to a House committee, blocking the measure from getting a hearing or vote for the time being. It was the only bill not sent to a committee among hundreds of other measures.

Michael Tyler, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said Jindal’s decision to include “hateful legislation” in his address reveals his mindset.

“The fact that he dedicated his final State of the State address to making this discriminatory anti-LGBT bill a legislative priority tells you everything you need to know about Bobby Jindal and the Republican Party,” Tyler said. “Instead of looking forward to a more inclusive Louisiana, the governor would rather turn back the clock. What’s truly sad is that he thinks touting this hateful legislation will distract from his failed economic record as governor. For a guy who once told the GOP it should stop being the ‘stupid party,’ he seems to spend a lot of timing promoting the very worst it has to offer. His performance yesterday looked more like an audition to be the next cast member on Duck Dynasty rather than president of the United States. Louisianans and the American people deserve better.”

After the speech, Equality Louisiana issued an organizational statement criticizing Jindal for including the measure within his “State of the State” remarks.

“We are shocked that Gov. Jindal has chosen to name House Bill 707 – which would have very similar negative effects on Louisiana business and industry, if not worse, to the discriminatory bills passed in Indiana and Arkansas – among his top three priorities for the 2015 Legislative Session,” the statement says. “With our state facing a budget shortfall of $1.6 billion, the governor should focus his attention on fixing that gap.”

Pointing to Jindal’s assertion that Louisiana opposes discrimination, Equality Louisiana said that should necessitate passage of statewide LGBT non-discrimination legislation.

“If this is true, we hope that his office will change their official position on House Bill 632: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act by Rep. Karen St. Germain,” the statement says. “The governor’s office has previously publicly stated its opposition to this bill that would prohibit employment discrimination against gay and transgender Louisianians.”

But according to Jindal, the potential discrimination at hand is not against LGBT people, but to individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage.

“Diversity of belief and religious liberty are the foundation of our law and Constitution and they should be protected,” Jindal said. “In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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