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Our Kids Are Watching Melissa Bickel
Revisiting RFRA before LGBT rights debate January 25, 2016 Source: IndyStar

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Consider it an appetizer to the main course.

Before state lawmakers debate legislation Wednesday to extend civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, they are scheduled to revisit what started it all: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Should lawmakers repeal Indiana’s controversial, patched-up RFRA? Should they rewrite it in simpler terms to offer broader protections for religious freedoms in addition to other constitutional rights?

A proposal that would do just that, Senate Bill 66, is on Wednesday morning’s agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 66 would replace RFRA with similar heightened protections for “fundamental rights” granted by the state Constitution, including freedom of religious expression, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.

Bill author Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said Indiana’s original RFRA got too messy. This new proposal, he said, would help preserve cherished rights at the highest level.

But some critics have dubbed the proposal “Super RFRA” or “RFRA 2.0.” They see it as an attempt, like last year’s RFRA controversy, to allow religious believers to legally discriminate against LGBT people.

Freedom Indiana, an organization campaigning for LGBT rights, said Senate Bill 66 is broader than the federal RFRA and would allow more individuals and organizations to claim exemptions to laws. It would also strip away protections from the RFRA “fix” to prevent objections to local and state civil rights laws.

“SB66 is like RFRA — but even worse,” Freedom Indiana wrote in an email to its supporters.

Religious freedom advocates, however, haven’t publicly addressed Senate Bill 66 and appear to remain focused on defeating legislation that would extend LGBT rights.

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 130 of the Statehouse, 200 W Washington St.