Christian Living

Newsroom Talk

2015 a Big Year for Religious Freedom

Heather Sells

Newsroom Talk is watching plans develop for a religious freedom bill in Indiana.  Nineteen states have already passed similar legislation but with the political climate around conscience rights rapidly changing, this heartland  battle could be telling.

Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute and advocate for the initiative, tells Newsroom Talk that they’re dubbing it the "the Hobby Lobby bill" to remind Hoosier lawmakers that the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision was based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and not the First Amendment. Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Ind.,is the bill’s author.

The federal law, passed with  sweeping bi-partisan support in 1993, offered broad religious freedom protection.  However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that it did not apply to state level court cases. 

Smith said bill supporters will have to educate lawmakers but notes that "it’s a very relevant topic in Indiana."

Just last month, the Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese found itself in U.S. district court, defending itself for terminating a teacher who violated Catholic teaching on fertility treatments.  If Indiana had a religious freedom bill, Smith says the teacher would have been unable to sue.

In June, a federal judge struck down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban. Smith said there’s "inevitable friction points" between the faith community and LGBT community but believes that religious liberty should always be the highest principle.

LGBT advocates say the bill will promote discrimination as it allows small businesses to cite conscience rights in refusing to serve gay customers.

A few years ago, mainstream support for redefining marriage was unthinkable. Now, not only is it growing but support for religious liberty seems to be eroding.

Newsroom Talk thinks 2015 could prove to be a significant year for religious freedom. Expect battles at the grassroots, municipal, and state level to grow—and increased pressure on the Supreme Court to weigh in as lower federal courts disagree on the issue of marriage.