Local State Rep. files bill to protect right of conscience for all

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BOSSIER CITY, LA — State Representative Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, announced the filing of a bill that will prevent adverse treatment by the government of any person or entity on the basis of views they may hold with regard to the institution of marriage.

Mike headshot (cropped)The “Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act,” which will be posted at the Legislature’s website today, provides that all persons and entities will enjoy the 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.

“This new law aims not only to help diffuse a growing cultural conflict, it aims to 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,” said Johnson, who is also nationally recognized constitutional law attorney who has litigated religious liberty cases in federal courts for almost two decades.

In its “legislative findings” section, the bill notes that “leading legal scholars concur conflicts between religious liberty and changing ideas about the institution of marriage are very real, rapidly increasing, and should be addressed by legislation.” The bill also quotes President Barack Obama, who agreed 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.”

Under the Act, 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,” said Johnson, “State government will never be allowed to bully or coerce people simply because of what they believe about marriage.”

Because the Act is designed to prevent the adverse treatment of all persons by the State, Johnson notes his legislation, unlike recent controversies in Indiana and Arkansas, has nothing to do with private business owners and their decisions about how and to whom they want to provide their goods and services.

The 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 thinks marriage should be defined, we should always respect the right of our neighbors to hold a different view,” added Johnson.  “And we certainly should all agree that we do not want the government to be allowed to discriminate against us, or our neighbors, simply because of our respective viewpoints. 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.”

A number of other legislators have already expressed an interest in serving as co-authors of Johnson’s legislation, and will be added to the bill in the coming days.  The innovative bill is believed to be the first of its kind to be introduced in any state legislature.

“Obviously, our greatest challenge in the upcoming session is the budget, and all of us are focused like a laser and working endless hours to solve that crisis,” said Johnson. “But there are a handful of other matters that my colleagues and I agree we can and should address before the session ends, and this matter of preserving the right of conscience is a critically important one.”