Religious freedom bill moves one step closer to governor's desk

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The contentious religious freedom restoration bill moved an important step closer to the governor's desk. It sailed through a second reading in the House of Representatives

The bill moves to a third and final vote. Monday's debate pitted the right to religious beliefs against civil rights and claims of discrimination.

Supporters crowded the hallway outside the House chambers. They went home with a victory.

Kathy Crawford was pleased.

"The bill isn't to discriminate against anyone. It is to protect our religious freedoms," she said.

Opponents, wearing red, packed the House gallery. They walked away from another defeat. Many insist the legislation will allow businesses to refuse same-sex couples and others who don't share their religious beliefs.

Jamie Shepherd was disappointed and concerned.

"And we walk in and they just say, 'No, we aren't going to serve you.' That's what the legislation could allow," she said.

On the House floor, Republicans and Democrats squared off in a contentious debate. House minority leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) told lawmakers, "If this bill isn't about the right to discriminate, then prove it."

Majority floor leader Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) countered opponents.

"Nobody here supports discrimination," McMillin said.

However Democrats believe the legislation will create other unintended legal consequences. Among them, allowing businesses to impose their religious beliefs on employees. Child safety is a concern. Critics claim parents could cite religious exemptions for not strapping children into child safety seats.

Representative Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) raised an extreme possibility.

"Some will allege their religion, made them do the sexual offense they did. That is permitted under their faith," he said.

Amendments to change the bill, including one requiring businesses to post signs listing who they won't serve - all failed.

The overwhelmingly Republican majority insists the law would strike a necessary balance.

"People have the right to be free from being discriminated against. People also have the right to exercise their religious beliefs," McMillin explained.

Supporters say the proposed law mirrors Federal law and laws in 30 other states that have been in place for more than 20 years. The legislation is a third and final vote away from the governor's desk.

If it gets there, Governor Mike Pence has said he will sign it.