BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers rejected a religious freedom bill on Tuesday that provided protections to business owners and others who have convictions not to participate in same-sex ceremonies, resulting in the state’s governor issuing an executive order to ensure that protections are in place.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) had introduced H.B. 707 to ensure that businesses are not punished by the state government for their beliefs about marriage.
“Protecting religious freedom from government intrusion is a governmental interest of the highest order,” it reads. “Legislatively enacted measures advance this interest by remedying, deterring, and preventing government interference with the right of conscience and religious exercise in a way that complements the protections mandated by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and … the Constitution of Louisiana.”
“Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, this state shall not take any adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage,” the bill declares.
Among the punishments prohibited are the denial or revocation of a professional license, tax exemption or deduction, certification or accreditation.
But the bill was stopped in committee, as the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee voted 10-2 to shelve the proposal and send it back to the calendar.
Following the vote, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who identifies as Roman Catholic, issued a statement vowing to sign an executive order protecting the rights of religious entities in the state.
“We are disappointed by the committee’s action to return the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act to the calendar,” he said. “We will be issuing an executive order … that will accomplish the intent of HB 707 to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Jindal said that the order was the next best thing to signing the bill.
“As a nation we would not compel a priest, minister or rabbi to violate his conscience and perform a same-sex wedding ceremony,” Jindal stated. “But a great many Americans who are not members of the clergy feel just as called to live their faith through their businesses. That’s why we should ensure that musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion on deeply held religious convictions.”
But some were critical of the move, stating that Jindal was seeking to legalize discrimination.
“We’re attempting to … carve out the ability to discriminate, the ability to be bigoted,” Stephen Perry of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau told the New York Daily News.
Johnson says that he will bring up the matter again during this legislative season.
“If society’s views on marriage are going to change—if the Supreme Court declares there is a right to same-sex marriage—we have to do all we can to ensure that religious liberty is not a casualty of that new and emerging idea,” he told reporters.