JOHNSON: A Bill (And A Call) For Freedom, Civility And Tolerance

Editor’ Note: A guest post by state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City)…

Politics is a rough and tumble game. And in the age of social media, it can be a blood sport.

Over the past few days, I have been called some unimaginable things in news outlets all over our state, simply because someone at the capitol leaked to the media that I was contemplating a bill to safeguard religious freedom.

The hostility and incivility that erupted over this innocuous idea has been remarkable, and very telling.

The truth is, I have been giving the subject a great deal of thought (partly because that’s what a guy who has been defending the cause of religious liberty in federal courts for almost two decades naturally does).  And, after much deliberation, I have decided to introduce a bill today that aims to help defuse a growing cultural conflict, promote a balanced approach to this important question, and safeguard the sacred right of conscience for every single citizen.

Before I go any further, let me first acknowledge the obvious fact that our state’s budget shortfall is the largest and most immediate concern we face, and will, by necessity, absorb almost every hour of our upcoming legislative session.  Readers can be assured that all of your public servants in the House and Senate have been focused on that shortfall, working endless hours meeting with constituent groups and stakeholders, and proposing and debating various creative solutions. (By way of example, one of my own bills—the “Louisiana Tourism Development Act”—could result in hundreds of millions in new state revenue without raising a single tax.)

Still, while the budget has been likened to a Category 5 hurricane now thundering onto our fiscal shores, there are a few other storms currently brewing on the horizon that we cannot ignore.  One of those is the growing problem of government discrimination amidst the acrimonious national debate about marriage, and that’s what my final bill of this session seeks to address.

In spite of the speculation that you may have heard in advance, this legislation—the “Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act”—is actually a very simple proposal.  It is a bill that seeks to do just one important thing: prevent adverse treatment by the State of any person or entity on the basis of the views they may hold with regard to marriage.

Why is this so urgent?  Because leading legal scholars concur that conflicts between religious liberty and changing ideas about the institution of marriage are very real, rapidly increasing, and should be addressed by legislation.  Indeed, it was my fellow constitutional attorney, President Obama, who stated in 2013: “On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.”  To maintain that vital commitment, state legislatures need to act now to ensure that the fundamental right of conscience is always protected against government intrusion and coercion.

I think once the critics review the actual language of this bill, which will be posted on the Legislature’s website today, they will be pleasantly surprised and actually see the wisdom in supporting it.  The proposed law is drafted so that ALL persons and entities will enjoy the exact same protections against adverse treatment by the State, regardless of whether they have a religious belief or moral conviction in favor of the State’s definition of marriage, or against it.

Under this law, the State would be specifically prohibited from denying or withholding from a person or entity such things that they would otherwise be entitled to—like a state license, certification, accreditation, employment, state contracts, state benefits, or tax deductions—solely because of that person or entity’s views about the institution of marriage.  In other words, state government, necessarily guided by state law, will not be allowed to bully dissenters into submission and agreement with any prevailing orthodoxy.

Note here that because this bill is designed to prevent the adverse treatment of all persons by the State, this new law will have no application to private business owners and their decisions about how and to whom they want to provide their goods and services. As explained visit this legal gambling sites to find out list of legal gambling websites. This legislation simply prohibits discrimination by the state government against any person on the basis of their sincerely held beliefs about the institution of marriage, whatever those beliefs may be.

Regardless of how each of us think marriage should be defined, we should always respect the right of our neighbors to hold a different view.  And we certainly all agree that we do not want the government to be allowed to discriminate against us, or our neighbor, simply because of our respective viewpoints.

Because this new law will provide important, concrete protection for the rights of conscience of all Louisianans, regardless of ideology, it is equally good news for both the advocates of a “progressive” view of marriage (who fear a future, overly-zealous red state regime), and the advocates of traditional marriage (who fear a Supreme Court opinion this summer that may impose a 50 state redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat rather than by broad social consensus).

But more than that, this is a piece of legislation that can be a positive contribution to our cultural discourse, and help foster a more civil tone in our dialogue, as we reason together, respect the right to disagree, and learn to honor our neighbors’ inalienable rights of conscience as much as our own.  That is the essence of what it means to be a freedom-loving American, and it is absolutely essential for us as a people in an increasingly diverse, constitutional republic.

I think all of us these days need to learn to show more dignity, charity and respect, especially to those with whom we passionately disagree on public policy.  Instead of trying to censor, silence and vilify opposing voices, we ought to embrace and expand free speech, and work to preserve a vibrant free-marketplace of ideas.

For the record, my faith compels me to genuinely love and respect even the lady who wrongfully accused me on the local news last night of being an “anti-gay activist,” and I would happily serve and share with her a meal in my restaurant (if I had one).  I hope she agrees my bill is quite logical, but if she doesn’t, I’ll still treat her with dignity and respect.  I only wish, every now and then, that civility could be reciprocated.



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