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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, October 03, 2019 11:40 am

Judge hears suit over Indiana's religious objections law

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

NOBLESVILLE – Indiana's infamous religious freedom law came back into focus today as a Hamilton County judge heard almost three hours of arguments about whether the so-called fix to the controversial statute is unconstitutional.

Also at issue was whether four cities' anti-discrimination ordinances discriminate against several Christian nonprofits.

Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp, who is seeking to invalidate the law, said the case is unprecedented because no state has ever granted legal protection for religious freedom and then within days stripped that protection away.

"We know that limiting the exercise of a person's religious freedom only to the four corners of their church or home is patently unconstitutional but that is what we are faced with," he said.

But the Indiana Attorney General's Office and lawyers for the cities of Indianapolis, Carmel, Bloomington and Columbus argued the organizations that sued don't have standing because they haven't been harmed.

"There is no immediate fear of injury. They aren't doing anything to implicate the ordinance," said Libby Goodknight, representing Carmel. "It's all hypothetical. There is no credible threat of prosecution."

The Indiana Family Institute and American Family Association of Indiana filed the lawsuit in December 2015 challenging the revision to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the constitutionality of local civil rights ordinances that protect LGBT Hoosiers from employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination.

RFRA essentially calls for judges to use a higher level of scrutiny when evaluating whether a law or regulation improperly curtails a person's religious liberty.

But its passage in 2015 caused a national uproar, as many believed it was meant to legalize discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the name of protecting religious belief. A prime example would be allowing bakers or photographers to refuse services for same-sex weddings.

So lawmakers crafted a revision in just a few days that said RFRA couldn't be used to justify denying housing, jobs or services related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The groups that sued said the ordinances themselves as well as the addition to the state law "chills" their activities and could mean they are targeted for refusing to hire a gay person or permit a transgender person from participating in their programs.

nkelly@jg.net