Tennessee already has its own ‘religious freedom’ law similar to Indiana’s

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A new Indiana law at the center of a growing controversy that critics say gives businesses a license to discriminate against the LGBT community is similar to one already on the books in Tennessee.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that it’s not about discrimination. At the same time, Indiana faces the threat of boycotts by those who want to see the law repealed.

Related story: Apple CEO Tim Cook among business leaders who oppose Indiana ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

Lincoln Memorial Law Professor Akram Faizer says there are some unanswered questions surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He says the Supreme Court has not articulated what a legitimate religious freedom is and if that religion sufficiently and sincerely felt to turn a person away from a business.

Lincoln Memorial Law Professor Akram Faizer
Lincoln Memorial Law Professor Akram Faizer

“These laws are completely silent to the LGBT community. They don’t mention they’re being enacted to discriminate against any group at all,” said Faizer. “The reason that these laws are being controversial is the suspicion that many Americans, most importantly the LGBT community, is that they are enacted for the sole purpose of using religious freedom as a grounds to discriminate against LGBT Americans.”

Civil rights legislation at the federal level protects people from discrimination based on race and national origin at their job, but there is no civil rights legislation protecting the LGBT community from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“What could plausibly happen under this Tennessee law is someone could say, look, there’s maybe a municipality could pass a law saying you have to serve… two gay people with a wedding cake or be a wedding photographer for a lesbian couple. And the general tendency would be that all businesses would serve equally, but this would give businesses and private employers to say, ‘No we don’t have to serve those people for religious freedom grounds,’ ” said Faizer.

Faizer says he understands why people are emotional in Indiana after Gov. Mike Pence signed the new law, since a nearly identical one has been in effect since 2009 in Tennessee.

“The question is will this allow people to engage in more invidious discrimination perhaps against the LGBT community, and the answer is perhaps,” said Faizer. “Where do we draw the line of what freedom and religion entails. Where does freedom of religion end and someone else’s freedom begin.”

Faizer says a local municipal law could be enacted by a city council that could prevent discrimination against people in the LGBT community. He says, however, it may or may not be effective.

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