Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, may believe Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order on religious freedom was nothing but a political stunt, but he should not have been surprised.
If Handwerk didn’t see this coming, he needs to start reading the New York Times.
Jindal vowed in a New York Times op-ed in April he would not be scared off by the “large corporations” that had joined with “left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty” in Indiana and Arkansas.
Turns out the Republican wasn’t bullied by the Louisiana Legislature, either. Jindal issued his executive order less than two hours after a Marriage and Conscience Act proposal was tabled by state lawmakers.
State Rep. Mike Johnson (R) said the Marriage and Conscience Act he introduced in April was intended to reinforce Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act that was approved in 2010. He told the Times-Picayune the legislation was also intended to protect businesses that might fear the wrath of state government if they did something in support of gay marriage.
“It is a protection for all persons regardless of their religious viewpoint,” he said.
Jindal’s “Marriage and Conscience” executive order is intended to accomplish what the Legislature failed to do — protect any “individual, non-profit or for-profit corporation” who declines to serve anyone involved in a same-sex marriage, if doing so would violate religious beliefs, as long as it would not seriously hurt Louisiana.
Jindal also said the order does not sanction gay discrimination in Louisiana.
Handwerk said nothing could be further from the truth and warned Jindal’s order threatens to wreck the state’s tourism industry.
“Gov. Jindal’s stunt once again underlines his disregard for Louisiana families, his disdain for the state legislature and his apparent contempt for the state’s tourism industry— the only segment of our economy his failed policies haven’t crippled,” said Handwerk. “Louisiana taxpayers and businesses are once again being forced to foot the bill for Jindal’s vanity. It’s foolishness our families cannot afford.”
Not only did Jindal release his executive order less than two hours after the Marriage and Conscience Act was tabled in downtown Baton Rouge, he let it fly two days after forming a presidential exploratory committee to examine the wisdom of running for the White House in 2016.
He said a final decision on whether to run in 2016 could be expected June 11, after the Legislature recesses for the summer.
“If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path,” Jindal said in the statement.
Jindal’s vow to show voters a “dramatically different path” will undoubtedly include his strong belief in traditional marriage despite polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans support legalizing gay marriage.
A Gallup survey released at about the same time Jindal was signing his order showed 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. Another Gallup survey released a few hours later showed for the first time a majority of Americans, 51 percent, believe gays and lesbians are born homosexual, and their sexual preference is not a matter of choice.
Jindal has not given even the slightest hint of willingness to compromise on his beliefs for the sake of moving into the White House.
That includes a warning from one of the largest corporations in the world, IBM, that the Marriage and Conscience Act would only make it tougher to attract talent to Louisiana.
This is not an example of some out-of-town left-winger or gay CEO telling Jindal how to run Louisiana’s business. IBM has a dog in this fight. The corporation is building a new technology and service center in downtown Baton Rouge.
“A bill that legally protects discrimination based on same-sex marriage status will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company’s values,” IBM vice president James Driesse wrote in a letter to Jindal.
Jindal replied the legislation was not intended to validate discrimination.
That did little to calm the concerns of an LGBT rights group, Truth Wins Out, which started running a 30-second ad in response to Jindal’s op-ed that warned he could cause the same kind of economic damage to Louisiana that Indiana and Arkansas had suffered.
“Bobby Jindal is placing self-interest above the best Interests of Louisiana,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “Jindal’s political grandstanding could lead to the worst economic disaster since Hurricane Katrina. But unlike Katrina, this is no act of God. Rather it’s the act of a craven politician cynically invoking God to justify discrimination and further his presidential ambitions.”
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, issued a statement in support of the executive order minutes after Jindal signed it.
“No person or nonprofit should lose tax exempt status, face disqualification, lose a professional license or be punished by the government simply for believing what President Obama believed just three years ago, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Perkins said.
“We thank Governor Jindal for his leadership on this bill and call on him to use the power of his office to ensure that Louisianans remain free to follow their beliefs about marriage without fear of retaliation by the government,” concluded Perkins.
It doesn’t seem Perkins has anything to worry about on that front. Jindal stressed in his op-ed the idea of religious freedom, to him, is one that goes far beyond economic or even political concerns.
Jindal promised in his April op-ed to pay more attention to his religious beliefs and convictions than what IBM or Truth Wins Out wants him to do.
“As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana,” Jindal wrote, “I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.”