LOUISIANA (KSLA) - Religious leaders held a news conference Thursday about House Bill 707, the Marriage and Conscience Act which is authored by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City).
According to advocacy groups Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress Action, HB 707 would legalize discrimination in the name of "religious liberty."
But, Rep. Johnson says that's not the case.
In the news conference he explained, "There's nothing in the bill that addresses private business disputes at all. It doesn't provide a positive right for anyone to discriminate, condone or authorize that in any way. And I challenge anyone to look at the language of the bill, it just simply isn't there. It doesn't alter or affect in any way municipal, federal or state laws. If someone is discriminated against in the provision of a good or a service, they have a right to bring a discrimination lawsuit against the business owner or whomever who did that and then that dispute plays out in the judicial system which is the rightful place for it."
Rep. Johnson attended the news conference to explain his bill and proposed some amendments.
"All the bill does is simply say that the state and its agencies, the bureaucrats so to speak, can't meddle in the middle if there is a dispute on discrimination. The state can't go in and yank someone's business license or their certification in the middle of that process," explained Rep. Johnson. "The idea behind it is we have to protect religious freedom."
"Many faith leaders, especially here in the Shreveport-Bossier area which Rep. Johnson represents, do not agree with his bill," said Frances Kelley with the Louisiana Progress Action and Equality Louisiana. "Religious liberty is already strongly protected by the constitution. We are here to dispel the myth that religious liberty means infringing on the rights of others."
"The bill is intended to be a shield and not a sword," says Rep. Johnson.
Earlier this month, Rep. Johnson announced his bill would be clarified in the hopes of addressing concerns it could lead to discrimination against gays and other minorities. He also announced his intention to delete a paragraph that had been cited as a source of concern.
The paragraph in question, proposed R.S. 13:5245(B)(4), refers to federal qualifications for employee benefit plans, and was originally included in the bill merely as an acknowledgment and restatement of existing law. But Johnson says that provision has unexpectedly caused more confusion than clarity.
Following the news conference, Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress Action released a statement signed by fifty faith leaders around the state declaring their opposition to HB 707.
On Friday, local citizens are expected to deliver a petition with over 3,000 signatures against House Bill 707 to Rep. Johnson.