Some state contractors would be allowed to discriminate against employees based on religion under a provision state lawmakers slipped into an unrelated bill during a House committee meeting today.
The change to Senate Bill 367, a property tax bill, would allow any school, college, or religious institution affiliated with a church to hire employees based on religion, even if they have a contract with the state.
House Ways and Means Committee barely approved the change on a 9-8 vote. The amended version of the bill was then forwarded to the full House on a 12-7 vote.The contractors exempted from the non-discrimination requirement includes any school, educational or charitable religious institution owned or conducted by or affiliated with a church or religious institution. This goes back to the fundamental question of the constitutionality of public funding of churches and religious institutions. Both the Establishment Clause contained within the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution's Bill of Rights impose restrictions on the use of public funds for religious purposes. The only way around the prohibition is if the funds being provided to churches and religious-affiliated organizations are being used in a manner that does not promote any religious or sectarian purposes. Turner wants to let churches and religious organizations have their cake and eat it too. That's got legal challenge written all over it. If you don't want any strings attached, then don't take the money. That's the price you pay for accepting public funding.
UPDATE: That didn't take long. House Speaker Brian Bosma is sending SB 367 back to committee to remove Turner's amendment.
“There was a lot of confusion about the purpose and intent of the amendment, so I thought it best for it to come out so it wasn’t a distraction,” he said.
Bosma said the measure was intended to address a state contracting issue with Indiana Wesleyan University, but that some people felt it went beyond that purpose.