On Tuesday, the Indiana state Senate voted 39-11 in favor of a bill to explicitly permit religious discrimination in hiring by some organizations that contract with the state.
Under the legislation, which would amend non-discrimination rules for state contractors, such organizations could "give a preference in employment" to people of a particular faith. They could also require all employees to "conform to the religious tenets of the organization."
The bill appears to be confined to state contractors with strong religious ties, such as certain schools and hospitals. State Sen. Travis Holdman (R), who wrote the measure, pointed in particular to Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical Christian institution, according to The Indianapolis Star.
It all began with a federal judge's decision to overturn Indiana's same-sex marriage ban in June last year. After that decision, conservatives in the state raised concerns that business owners who opposed gay marriage would be forced to provide services for same-sex ceremonies.
Holdman's bill is aimed only at organizations that take public moneys. But critics contend that it would still harm marginalized groups, especially the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"Once a religious institution takes public funding or bids on public projects, they should then have to follow the rules like public businesses do in regards to discrimination based on any trait -- sex, race, gender, sexual and gender orientation, etc.,” Chris Paulsen of Indiana Equality Action told the Star earlier this week.
Holdman claims his bill is modeled after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VII provides an exemption for "a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion."
"It’s not a legal license to discriminate," Holdman told the Star. "It just says we're going to pull ourselves in line with federal law that allows for this kind of carve-out, this kind of exemption, for faith-based organizations."
The Indiana measure still needs to pass the state House of Representatives.
Similar efforts to pass so-called religious freedom legislation failed in several states last year. An Arizona bill was arguably the most contentious. The bill, which critics said would have allowed business owners to refuse services to LGBT individuals, was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R).