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Indiana to pass religious freedom law like DUP's 'conscience clause' bill


Indiana state Governor Mike Pence

Indiana state Governor Mike Pence

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Indiana state Governor Mike Pence

The US state of Indiana is about to pass a religious freedom law along the lines of the DUP's 'conscience clause' bill.

The Indianapolis Star has reported that Governor Mike Pence is poised to sign into law, in a private ceremony on Thursday, a bill that would forbid the state from forcing people to provide services that violate their religious beliefs.

Critics say it could lead to discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

The move comes as Northern Ireland debates gay rights and freedom of conscience in the courtroom.

Gay rights activists and Christian groups from across Ireland and the UK have gathered at Laganside Courthouse in Belfast where a judge will be asked to decide if Ashers Bakery broke the law by refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

The cake row prompted the Democratic Unionist Party to propose a legal amendment which would provide for a "conscience clause" in equality legislation - effectively giving businesses the right to refuse to provide services they believe compromise their religious beliefs.

Similar laws recently have been floated in US states other than Indiana, as gay marriage increasingly has been legalised across America.

The Indiana House of Representatives on Monday approved the bill by a 63-31 vote, after the state Senate approved a similar bill last month. Dennis Kruse, a senator who authored the bill, said his chamber will concur with the House version.

After passage in the two legislative chambers, the bill heads to the governor’s desk for a signature. Mr Pence indicated this week that he would sign the bill.

If it becomes law, the bill would prevent state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s freedom of religion unless the government can come up with a compelling reason to do so.

Those who back the bill say it is a way to keep the government out of the religious beliefs of people and business owners. The opposition has seen it differently.

“The legislation is so broadly written that there may be unforeseen and harmful consequences to our state,” wrote the Indiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Moreover, the bills create a widespread and negative perception of Indiana by appearing to invite the use of religion to discriminate, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The ALCU said that in other states that have similar legislations it has seen pharmacists refuse to sell contraception and a school guidance counsellor refuse to help gay students, both because of religious beliefs.

Calls to Senator Kruse were not returned in time for this story.

Additional reporting by Independent

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Belfast Telegraph