House committee kills 'religious liberty' bill, Gov. Jindal issues Executive Order to enforce intent of bill

Governor explains, opponents react to Executive Order
Published: May. 19, 2015 at 2:03 PM CDT|Updated: May. 20, 2015 at 2:32 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There was an overflow of support and opposition Tuesday to what could have potentially been the most controversial bill of the legislative session.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman," said James Riley, Pastor of Bethesda Gospel Church in Baton Rouge.

"It sends a radioactive, poisonous message," said Stephen Perry, CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The committee meeting concluded by sending the so-called "religious liberty" bill back to the legislative calendar. By returning the item to the calendar, lawmakers are not forced to take a position on the controversial bill.

"Trying to accomplish religious freedom without causing any discriminatory intent has been a difficult one," said Rep. Neil Abramson, (D) New Orleans and chairman of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, says his bill simply protects people with a "moral conviction" that marriage is between a man and a woman from being scrutinized by the state.

HB 707, known as the "Marriage and Conscience Act," would prohibit the state from denying any resident, nonprofit or business a license, benefits or tax deductions because of actions taken "in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction" about marriage.

But critics call it a "hate" bill, saying it does not promote "religious liberty", but rather encourages discrimination in the name of religion.

Other critics say the bill is simply bad business and will mean no more hosting Super Bowls and NCAA national championship football and basketball championships.

"What is at stake? First year losses for the economy of Louisiana - $40 million to the general fund," said Perry with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Tourist industry in Louisiana has survived long before this issue came up and it will survive long after," said Omar Thibeaux, a Lafayette pastor. "No matter how you decide on this issue, they will still come."

Despite the move from the committee Tuesday, Johnson says he will still try to get the bill another hearing.

There was a war of letters between corporate giant IBM and Gov. Bobby Jindal in April over the bill. It could cause friction between the company and Baton Rouge. IBM senior executive James Driesse sent a letter to Jindal conveying the company's "strong opposition to HB 707, the Marriage and Conscience Act. We are deeply concerned by reports that you intend to support this legislation."

"I think the bill is a good bill because unfortunately, we have seen in other states what has happened when businesses were forced to choose between their beliefs and state sanctions," Jindal explained.

At the State Capitol, Jindal praised the bill, which he listed among the top three items to accomplish this legislative session.

In its brief, terse letter, the global giant warned "a bill that legally protects discrimination based on same-sex marriage status will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company's values. IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law."

"You are confused about what the bill would accomplish in practice," Jindal responded to Driesse and the company.

"HB 707 simply seeks to ensure the state does not take adverse action against a person because of a religious belief in traditional marriage," Jindal added.

In five more paragraphs, the governor sought to win over IBM, concluding the letter by saying, "I thank you again for choosing Louisiana as a place to expand and thrive. I hope you reconsider your position on HB 707."

Mayor Kip Holden questioned why this House bill is getting so much attention, considering all of the major issues the state is currently facing.

In a statement, the governor's office says they are "disappointed" that the bill was returned to the calendar, and that they will be issuing an Executive Order that will "accomplish the intent of HB 707," preventing the state from discriminating against those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Governor Bobby Jindal officially issued an Executive Order to protect religious liberty and prevent the state from discriminating against those with deeply held religious beliefs.

Governor Jindal said, "In Louisiana, the state should not be able to take adverse action against a person for their belief in traditional marriage.

"That's why I'm issuing an Executive Order to prevent the state from discriminating against people, charities and family-owned businesses with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

"We don't support discrimination in Louisiana and we do support religious liberty. These two values can be upheld at the same time.

"Indeed, we celebrate diversity of belief in Louisiana. Diversity of belief and religious liberty are the foundation of our law and Constitution and they should be protected. As long as I'm Governor, we will fight to protect religious liberty and not apologize for it."

Representative Mike Johnson said, "I applaud Governor Jindal for this Executive Order. This Executive Order will go a long way to preserve the most fundamental freedom of all Louisianians which is our religious liberty. As was just mentioned a few weeks ago in oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, it is incumbent upon every state to address this important issue as soon as possible. This is a good resolution for our state for now and we intend to bring this legislation again at the earliest opportunity."

A statement from Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress Action responding to the announcement of Gov. Jindal's planned executive order based on HB 707:

"It is shameful that Gov. Jindal has decided that abusing his executive power to accomplish the goals of House Bill 707, even after it was tabled indefinitely by our legislature today, is worth more effort than fixing our disastrous state budget. In his time in Iowa, he may have forgotten what everyday Louisianians value, but the testimony today against HB 707 should have reminded him. Discrimination is not a Louisiana value.

The bill, and Jindal's executive order if it does accomplish the same goals, would hurt our state's economy. There is no question about that. IBM, Dow Chemicals, EA Sports, Marriott, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and Greater New Orleans, Inc. have all voiced their strong concerns about the adverse economic impact HB 707 would have. An executive order aiming to do the same thing would be no different.

Gov. Jindal is clearly trying to leave the biggest mess possible, as he readies himself to spend even less time in Louisiana and to launch his presidential campaign. In the end, his extreme ideology is only making the state a worse place for those of us who actually plan to live here past his last day in office."

Voting for the procedural move: Reps. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, committee chairman; Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, vice chair; Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite; Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace; Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; Gregory Miller, R-Norco; Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzles; and Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport.

Voting against the procedural move: Reps. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette; and Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.

The executive order itself can be found HERE

Copyright 2015 WAFB. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.