EXPLAINER: Why Indiana's 'religious freedom' law wouldn't hold in Minnesota

Indiana's 'religious freedom' law wouldn't hold in Minnesota

Strong words on the front page of the Indianapolis Star read "Fix This Now" on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to fix a "religious freedom" law signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last week.

Gov. Pence appeared to be giving in to pressure both in Indiana and across the United States, asking lawmakers to clarify the law and dismiss concerns that it would allow businesses to deny services to gay customers. Gov. Pence has strongly defended the law, and said it exists to protect religious liberties, adding he does not believe that lawmakers meant for it to discriminate, that is, until he said this:

"I've come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."

Minnesota law vs. Indiana law

The difference between an Amish buggy and a buggy without a triangle denoting a "slow-moving vehicle" is the difference between Minnesota and Indiana.

"They didn't want the triangle because it was a worldly symbol, and their religion prohibited all worldly symbols whatsoever," Philip Villaume said.

Villaume volunteered to be the lawyer for Amish residents arrested more than 25 years ago for not using the triangle on their buggies. By taking the case, he would spend two years in a legal battle that changed Minnesota law -- and would avoid a quagmire like in Indiana.

"It was a landmark decision. I knew if it prevailed in Minnesota, it was going to make a difference for all religions, not necessary just the Amish," he said.

In 1990, the Amish won. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that as long as the Amish used a "reasonable alternative" like something else reflective on the buggy. The state could not force a triangle. In other words, Minnesota government has a big burden to meet when challenging your religious practices.

"It's a very, very important decision for anybody - men, women, children who practices their religious beliefs. It does afford us a great amount of protection, and it's something I'm very proud of," Villaume said.

That case, Minnesota v. Hershberger, is why lawmakers in Minnesota have never passed a religious protection law like in Indiana. They didn't need to. Villaume believes what Indiana is doing goes too far, and that there's no reason to allow businesses to discriminate.

"As a lawyer who fights against discrimination, you want citizens protected from discrimination in services that are provided, employment, in any arena whatsoever. You don't want to see men, women, children discriminated against, so I think what they're doing is wrong. If they tried to do it in Minnesota, it wouldn't work," he said.

An Indiana-like law would also not cause the same concerns in Minnesota because a state law makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is not protected the same way in Indiana.


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