Is Your State the Next Indiana?

April 6th 2015

Laura Donovan

The dust has settled in Indiana and Arkansas as both states have passed revised versions of religious freedom legislation after national outcry over their potential to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community. While there are currently 31 other states with legislation similar to the federal RFRA, 11 other states have recently considered religious freedom bills. Here's where they stand. Will your state be the next Indiana?

1. Michigan 

Gov. Rick Snyder

Detroit Regional Chamber/Flickr

Michigan has three religious freedom bills in the hopper, including a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would give businesses a religious objection defense to state action. This bill is similar to the initial Indiana law that was eventually revised.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R), however, has no interest in passing an RFRA like Indiana's. The governor said Thursday that he'd veto Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) if the legislature does not also send him the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which would forbid businesses and housing managers from discriminating against LGBT people. The RFRA bill passed the state House last year before it stalled in the Senate.

"Given all the events that are happening in Indiana, I thought it would be good to clarify my position. I would veto RFRA legislation in Michigan if it is a standalone piece of legislation," Syder said. "There are strong feelings on these issues. We're working hard to see if there is a better way to address religious freedom and equality."

2. West Virginia

West Virginia

Donnie Nunley/Flickr

Tim Armstead (R), speaker of the West Virginia House, responded to the religious freedom debate by saying certain religious beliefs are simply protected under the Constitution and that discrimination has nothing to do with it.

"You still have a number of people in West Virginia who have religious objections to those issues [like same-sex marriage] and those religious objections are rooted in our Constitution and the constitutional right to freely exercise your religious beliefs," he said.

This year, two versions of the West Virginia Freedom of Conscience Protection Act were presented, but didn't pass the House Judiciary Committee. Each piece of legislation stated that “in all cases where state action burdens the exercise of religion, strict scrutiny is applied and to provide a claim or defense to a person or persons whose exercise of religion is burdened by state action.” That language is very similar to the initial Indiana law.

3. North Carolina

Gov. McCrory

Photo: Gov. McCrory. NCDOTcommunications/Flickr

North Carolina has decided to table its religious freedom bill in the wake of the controversy around Indiana's legislation. Republican House Speaker Tim Moore told the Wall Street Journal that the bill is on hiatus until sponsors can better understand the impact it would have.

Governor Pat McCrory (R) told WFAE's Charlotte Talks last week that he doesn't understand what the religious freedom bill seeks to accomplish, "What is the problem they’re trying to solve? I haven’t seen it at this point in time," adding that most aspects of religious freedom bills "make no sense."  

State Senator Warren Daniel (R) co-sponsored the Senate bill in favor of religious freedom, according to the Charlotte Observer. “It’s important to protect the freedoms that people founded America for," Daniel said. "This is not new. It’s the foundation of America."

American Airlines, which has its second largest hub in Charlotte, N.C., condemned the proposed legislation.

“We believe no individual should be refused service or employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said in a statement to the Charlotte Observer. “Laws like this will harm the economies of the states in which they are enacted and would ultimately be a step in the wrong direction for a society that seeks tolerance, peace and prosperity for all.

4. Georgia 

GA state capitol


Georgia's religious freedom bill is dead for now as Thursday marked the end of the 40-day legislative session, and the bill stalled in committee. That doesn't mean this is the last Georgia will see of the bill, however. Governor Nathan Deal (R) says lawmakers will have some changes to consider if they want to resurrect the legislation sometime next year. For one, they'll need to refer to the language used in the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Clinton signed into law (and Gov. Deal voted for as a member of Congress in the 1990s). Deal added they'll also have to include an anti-discrimination clause, the "most important" part of the process, so no one can claim the bill is in favor of discriminating against members of the LGBT community. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, these two issues pushed the House to table the legislation.

“As close as a state can stay to the original federal language, the safer you are,” Deal said. “It has been interpreted in the courts, so by having that model you narrow some of the arguments about what it does or does not do. We all understand that this is a difficult issue, and I hope that if and when it comes to my desk in the future it will not have the same kind of divisiveness associated in those two states."

Atlanta-based conservative blogger Erick Erickson expressed disappointment over Georgia's RFRA outcome, namely because he felt betrayed by Republicans who voted against the bill and also supported a tax increase.

The bright side, according to Erickson, is that he'll be able to point to these Republicans' wrongdoings in the near future, "For the next year, I will get to point out repeatedly that these Republicans were perfectly happy to vote for a tax increase and stabbed religious voters in the back. I will get to remind voters that [State Rep.] Wendell Willard, who is old and has run unopposed, that he voted for a billion dollar tax increase and rejected protecting religious liberty. I will get to remind voters that freshman Representative Beth Beskin raised their taxes and would not protect their religious freedom."

State Representative Nikki Randall (D) came out against the bill.

"We've already seen in Indiana the economic impact that's come along because of them passing something very similar. Religious freedom here and there. So many unintended consequences I think that we will incur if this is passed." 

5. Colorado  

Gov. Hickenlooper

Photo: Hickenlooper. Gov. tales of a wandering youkai/Flickr 

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) spoke out against Indiana's initial religious freedom efforts on Thursday, arguing that the state can use this public relations nightmare as an opportunity to recognize discriminatory policies.

"The time of two lunch counters and two water fountains is long past," the governor said in a statement. “As we know in Colorado, showing your state is ‘open for business’ begins in part by demonstrating that your state has an open mind and an open heart, and promotes equal rights and equal opportunity for all.”

Last month, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber played a major role in fighting similarly proposed legislation in Colorado. One proposal would have protected businesses from laws that mandated service of same-sex couples and the other would have strengthened general religious protections.

6. Wyoming 


Boss Tweed / Flickr

Wyoming could have easily been Indiana this year, but towards the end of January, Wyoming's very own RFRA was altered to eliminate discrimination. This turned out to be a good thing for Senator Daniel Hall (R), who co-sponsored the Senate version. He told the Charleston Gazette that he did not anticipate such an overwhelming backlash toward Indiana, adding that, when he proposed Wyoming's version, he never meant to allow for discrimination in his own state. "I had no intention of doing that, and I’ll kill my own bill if it does that."  

Two years ago, Hall spoke out against legalizing gay marriage on the Senate floor:

7. Utah

Utah state capitol

J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

In March, Utah passed a religious freedom and anti-discrimination bill that supports members of religious communities as well as LGBT individuals. The bill forbids businesses and landlords from discriminating against others for their sexual orientation, gives religious institutions more exemptions, and protects religious expression.

"The Utah law grants equal protections to LGBT people and people of faith. It says that you can't discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation or their gender identity," University of Utah law professor Cliff Rosky told the Deseret News. "The other laws don't do that. Our law bans discrimination based on religion, sexuality and gender. Their law legalizes discrimination based on religion."

8. South Dakota

 Mt. Rushmore

Jim Bowen/Flickr

Over the past two years, two variations of religious freedom laws have been introduced in South Dakota. SB128 would have allowed businesses to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. State Senator Mark Kirkeby (R) dubbed it a "mean, nasty, hateful, vindictive bill." The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-2 opposing it.

Some think South Dakota would be wise to stay out of the fray.

"When you see places like Indiana having large, large businesses boycotting the state that's a huge economic disadvantage and just one of the many reasons we do not need this law for the state," ACLU Executive Director Heather Smith told Keloland.com.

9. Montana 


Mark Stevens/Flickr

Late last month, the Montana House failed to pass a religious freedom bill that would have allowed for discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Missoulian. 

“This bill is about discrimination of people like me,” said openly gay State Rep. Bryce Bennett (D). “This is a bill about inspiring fear ... This bill is discriminatory and dangerous.” 

State Rep. Carl Glimm (R), who authored the measure, insisted it had nothing to do with discrimination.

"This bill puts an exclamation point on our Montana right to freedom of religion."

Bennett argued that the law would permit businesses to refuse him service, employers to terminate him for displaying a photograph of his partner on his desk, and landlords to evict him for living with his partner.

10. Nevada 

Gov. Sandoval

Photo: Gov. Sandoval. sobyrne99/Flickr

Nevada felt the heat from Indiana and is now throwing their religious freedom legislation under the bus. A spokesperson for Governor Brian Sandoval (R) said Thursday night that the bill "is not necessary because the interests of all Nevadans are protected under current law."

Assembly Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Erven Nelson (R), who sponsored the bill, has withdrawn his support as well.

"After careful reflection and consultation with legislative counsel, I have determined that Nevada’s Constitution already contains adequate safeguards and protections for the civil liberties of Nevada’s citizens," Nelson said. "Further legislative emphasis of these rights would be unnecessary. We obviously do not want to have happen in Nevada what’s been threatened to happen in Indiana as far as a boycott and things like that."

11. Hawaii 


Nan Palmero/Flickr

Earlier this year, the state was presented with a bill very similar to the initial legislation in Indiana. This had happened in 2013 and 2014 as well, but both of those bills were buried and were not granted hearings from the House Judiciary Committee. The measures failed because Hawaii's current marriage equality law already allows church-related businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples if it goes against their religion.