Tuesday, February 03, 2015
Legislation Would Allow Some Government Contractors To Discriminate In Employment Based On Religion
State Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) is back this year with the same legislation authored by former State Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) last year unsuccessfully that would allow some religious organizations that contract to provide state and local services to discriminate in hiring. Specifically, SB 127 applies to contracts entered into after July 1, 2015 with a religious corporation, an association, an educational institution or a society by the state or local governments and provides that such entities are permitted to provide a preference in hiring decisions based on a person's religion or requiring their employees from complying with the tenets of their religion as a condition of employment.
Arguably, the Indiana Supreme Court opened the door to this kind of legislation when it upheld the constitutionality of Indiana's Choice Scholarship program, which allows state vouchers to be given to parents to send their children to private religious schools. The Supreme Court held that the use of public funds to support religious schools did not violate the state's constitutional prohibition on public moneys being drawn from the state treasury to support religious organizations because the legislation created the fiction of the payments being made to the parents and not the religious organizations. A federal trial in Fort Wayne recently found that a Catholic school that participates in the state's Choice Scholarship program discriminated against a teacher it fired because she used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant in violation of the tenets of the Catholic Church.
Sen. Holdman claims he is offering the legislation on behalf of Indiana Wesleyan University, the same entity that Rep. Turner claimed to be offering the legislation last year, to help it become eligible to receive state workforce training grants according to the Indianapolis Star. Indiana senators rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) to SB 127 that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation by a vote of 36-6. Lanane questioned whether Holdman's legislation would permit employers to question their employees about private matters such as birth control. SB 127 is one of several bills being pursued this year under the guise of religious liberty.