After recent bills in Arkansas and Indiana were updated to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people, Louisiana decided to try their own hand at creating a “religious freedom” bill which, as originally drafted, could have gone much further. Why would a state already facing a $1.6 billion budget gap and lacking the funds for the very presidential primaries Bobby Jindal is expected to run in next year decide to alienate businesses and tourists? The answer is that there’s a war going on just beneath the surface within the Republican Party between business interests and religious conservatives.
The lawmaker who put together Louisiana’s “religious freedom” bill, state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City), has now stated that he would remove the most controversial part of the legislation, but the bill itself is still a political stunt designed to curry favor with religious conservatives.
The Louisiana legislator who drafted a bill that has been linked to controversial “religious freedom” measures in Indiana and Arkansas said he plans to alter his proposal amid concerns.
“I have had productive conversations with some very thoughtful people who have expressed concern about the specific language of that subsection,” state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said in a statement. “Rather than try to modify the wording, I’ve decided it will be best to simply eliminate that paragraph entirely to avoid any further confusion. This bill is a good faith effort to protect the right of conscience for all Louisiana citizens, and we want to ensure its language accurately reflects that.” (Source)
Rep. Mike Johnson isn’t just some God-fearing good ol’ boy from NW Louisiana; he’s an attorney who is also representing creationist Ken Ham (yes, that Ken Ham) in a lawsuit against the state of Kentucky for $18 million (plus court costs and attorney fees).
Rep. Mike Johnson’s decision to remove the language in his bill comes on the heels of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Stephen Perry warning the state that passing a “religious freedom” law like the ones from Indiana and Arkansas could be harmful to Louisiana’s economy.
Tourism is a huge part of the Louisiana economy, employing around 87,000 people and bringing in $5.2 billion annually according to the Louisiana Division of Administration.
New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Stephen Perry Wednesday issued a strongly worded statement concerning “religious freedom” bills in Indiana and Arkansas, saying his organization will closely monitor similar proposed legislation in the upcoming Louisiana legislative session. Perry said such legislation could threaten Louisiana’s economy.
“The adoption of certain types of overreaching, problematic and divisive legislation in Louisiana has the possibility of threatening our state’s third largest industry and creating economic losses pushing past a billion dollars a year and costing us tens of thousands of jobs,” Perry said. “Thus, we will be monitoring all legislation filed this year with an eye to economic security and to ensuring that Louisiana presents an image to the nation and the world that reflects open, progressive principles of tolerance and non-discrimination.” (Source)
The takeaway here is that in the Republican Party currently, big business has more influence than religious conservatives. However, religious conservatives aren’t going down without a fight, and bills like the ones in Indiana, Arkansas and now Louisiana are proof of that. As Lamar White notes in his recent story for TheInd.com, Louisiana already has laws on the books that are pretty much in line with the federal RFRA law from 1993. There’s no need for these religious freedom bills, except if you want to promote bigotry and drive away tourists and the film industry as a result. Or in Bobby Jindal’s case, pander to the religious right in a desperate attempt to get votes in the Iowa caucuses at the expense of Louisiana’s already faltering economy.
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