ACLU To Examine If RFRA Supersedes Civil Rights Laws

Apr 1, 2015

(From left) Rev. Jeffrey Mikels, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, ACLU representative Liz Welch and Rev. Peter Bunder participate in the ACLU of Indiana panel Wednesday in Lafayette.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA

An American Civil Liberties Union representative encouraged Tippecanoe County residents Wednesday to reject the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which she says could erase 60 years of civil rights progress in Indiana.

ACLU national organizer Liz Welch says the organization is working on an act that may be the solution.

“The Fairness for All Hoosiers Act, which basically would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s human rights code. And then it would also make sure that this is not superseding any civil rights laws that exist or things like non-discrimination ordinances,” Welch says.

Supporters of RFRA say it allows individuals more rights to practice religion, but Purdue University Chaplain Peter Bunder says the act has little to do with faith practices.

“I think it is a way of the Republican party dealing with its political base and trying to make those people who feel dispossessed by the recession, who feel their lives are somehow out of control, make them feel a little bit more in control and more likely to vote for the party that supports them,” Bunder says.

West Lafayette mayor John Dennis says he’ll encourage legislators to revisit the RFRA, so the negative impact on his community and others is lessened.

“There’s a lot of mayors throughout the state of Indiana that recognize that this could have an adverse financial impact on our communities and they’ve let the state know. And I think, as mayor, that’s one step that I can take,” Dennis says.

Dennis, who’s also been an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, says the welcoming attitude of West Lafayette will not change due to RFRA.

Most in attendance at the ACLU of Indiana’s panel – the first of its regular Wednesday talks it’s held in Tippecanoe County -- called for the law to be repealed.