New legislation allowing religious groups with state contracts to give preference of employment to those with distinct religious beliefs and mandate all current and future employees conform to the basic tenets of the religion was approved on Jan. 26 by an Indiana Senate committee in a 7-0 vote. It will now advance to the state Senate chamber.
Senate Bill 127 states that a “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society is not prohibited from giving a preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion or requiring that all employees and applicants conform to the religious tenets of the organization.”
State Sen. Travis Holdman, a Republican, sponsored the bill in an effort to assist Indiana Wesleyan University, a Christian college that hires employees based on their religious views, to continue receiving grants from the state. While the university’s methods of hiring are allowed under federal law, it still has raised controversy over religious liberty and discrimination.
Eunice Rho, an advocacy counselor for the American Civil Liberties Union, has been working closely with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations in an effort to raise awareness about the possible discrimination against LGBT employees and the alleged lack of constitutional authenticity in the bill’s wording. “Some of these bills single out same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment, and we believe that poses a potential constitutional problem,” stated Rho. She also stated points about the rights of the taxpayer, again alluding to possible discrimination by also saying, “But it also obviously violates the principle that you’re being paid by the public, you’re being paid by taxpayer dollars, you should be serving all taxpayers.”
On the other side, Holdman believes this law will protect the rights of the university, but the rights of other schools, hospitals, and foster care agencies, as well. “What we're trying to do is prevent a slippery slope that says we're now going to prohibit these religious organizations from practicing their faith and providing services to the state of Indiana,” said Holdman. The Indiana State Assembly, led by Republicans, will continue to take up this issue of religious freedom over the next several weeks, as it has planned other specific cases like the one above for this year.