Indiana Legislature Debating Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The Indiana General Assembly is currently debating the passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). As it is currently constructed, the RFRA reads, in pertinent part: “A state action, or an action taken by an individual based on state action, may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a law or policy of general applicability, unless the state or political subdivision of the state demonstrates that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.” The law allows an individual who believes their rights have been substantially burdened, or are likely to be substantially burdened, to file suit a seek injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs.

While the RFRA may not, on its face, seem problematic, many prominent entities disagree. Amongst those lining up in opposition to the RFRA are the American Civil Liberties Union, Indiana-based engine maker Cummins, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. So what’s the problem and why should Indiana employees care?

Many opponents of the RFRA claim the law would legalize discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to individuals with whom they disagree based on religious grounds, such as same-sex couples. According to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Cummins, such a law would brand Indiana as a state that is hostile to various groups of individuals, be they homosexual or followers of non-Christian religions. This perception could deter employers from locating in Indiana and might lead to employers leaving the state altogether. In other words, the RFRA could lead to fewer jobs for Hoosiers. The proponents of the RFRA claim these concerns are overblown and that the law has been carefully worded to avoid the types of issues identified by bill’s opponents.