Fundamental freedoms to be protected under proposed legislation

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers are considering a bill to protect fundamental freedoms for all Hoosier citizens, including religious freedom.

Senate Bill 66, authored by Indianapolis Republican, Senator Mike Young, would repeal Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and ensure that the six fundamental freedoms that are guaranteed in the constitution will be state law. These freedoms include the freedom to worship Almighty God according to the citizen’s own conscience; freedom to exercise one’s religion without government interference with conscience; no preference will be given to any creed or religion; freedom of speech; free exchange of ideas; freedom to assemble; and the freedom to bear arms.

The proposal to strengthen the six fundamental freedoms was prompted in part because of the passage of Indiana’s RFRA last year according Young.

Young described the language in the RFRA “fix” as “convoluted and difficult.” Young said his bill provides an opportunity for the state to “clean the slate.” Young asked, “Why should we protect just one of our fundamental freedoms? Why not protect all six?”

Young, an attorney, explained that without the strictest level of judicial scrutiny in place for fundamental rights, which Indiana’s RFRA lacks, citizens’ individual rights could be watered-down by the judicial standard a court uses to decide a case. Young said, “If the government is going to take away one of my fundamental rights, the government better have a very, very good reason to do so.”

He added, “I want the highest standard of judicial scrutiny because it makes government less likely, and more difficult for government to take away my personal liberty.”

Glenn Tebbe executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, said, “The Catholic Church is supportive of Senate bill 66 because it establishes a needed standard that protects and balances interests of individuals and institutions as well as the state’s. When there is a compelling state interest for a law or regulation, it must be done in the least restrictive manner, protecting both the state’s interests and the conscience and fundamental freedoms of all,” said Tebbe.

“We need to recognize a new trend in this country of government expanding its regulatory power to redefine and intrude into areas traditionally beyond the authority of the state,” said Tebbe. He cited state-mandated coverage of abortion and abortion-inducing drugs forced upon Catholic employers as one example. Another example is in licensure or accreditation.

Tebbe said, “These requirements should not include unnecessary rules that compel persons or agencies to act against their religious beliefs. These rules have forced adoption agencies out of existence in the state of Illinois.”

“These examples illustrate an intrusion upon religious freedom and matters of conscience where either individuals or institutions are forced to act contrary to their creed or conscience,” Tebbe said. “Senate Bill 66 protects against government overreach.”

Young gave the example of the state providing a compelling interest to take away a citizen’s right of free speech as it pertains to yelling “fire” in a public place. Young explained that to take away a person’s fundamental rights, the government has to have a very good reason to do so. In legal terms this is called the compelling interest test. For a person to shout “fire,” without there being an actual fire, puts the public at risk, and therefore is illegal.

Members from the LGBT community have expressed their concerns for the bill. The LGBT community supported last year’s amended RFRA because they felt it prohibited discrimination. Chris Paulsen representing Freedom Indiana, the group that fought for legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana, told Indianapolis news affiliates that she called Sen. Young’s bill “back-tracking.”

When asked how he would respond to the LGBT groups’ concerns over SB 66, Young said. “Protecting our fundamental freedoms protects all citizens, black, white, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, gay and lesbian. It protects all citizens.”

Young said he sees the civil rights issue that the LGBT community is seeking as a separate issue from the fundamental freedoms bill and says it should be treated that way.

Senate Bill 66 was heard in the Senate Judiciary committee, Jan. 27, and following committee passage it will move to the full Senate floor for second reading.

“I’m hopeful the bill will pass the Senate before the end of January,” said Tebbe.

“It’s hard to predict if SB 66 will pass this year. A lot can happen between now and March 16, when the Indiana General Assembly adjourns,” said Tebbe. “What I do know is that the Indiana Catholic Conference will be doing our part to ensure that these fundamental liberties, namely our religious freedom, is strengthened and protected.”

Posted on January 27, 2016, to: