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As Arizona deals with gay rights furor, Indiana drops hot-button bill

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As Arizona awaits its governor's decision on a religious freedom bill cast by critics as anti-gay, civil rights advocates in Indiana bashed its state's own foray into controversial legislation: A measure that would exempt many faith-based organizations from a law that prevents religious discrimination in employment decisions.

But while the furor grew in Arizona, Indiana lawmakers quickly nixed their measure Tuesday.

"The amendment is dead,” said Republican caucus spokeswoman Tory Flynn.

The Indiana proposal grabbed headlines Monday in the shadow of the Arizona law, which would bolster the ability of businesses to discriminate against potential customers on religious grounds. With support for gay marriage growing, conservatives in several states have been grappling with how to let businesses distance themselves from people who don’t share their views.

The issue came up in Indiana when a state lawyer raised questions about the state’s workforce training contract with Indiana Wesleyan University, which bills itself as a Christian institution.

The contract allowed the university to take religion into account in hiring decisions, a provision that was illegal, according to the attorney. The state's contracting law bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry.

State Rep. Eric Turner, a Republican, added an amendment to a tax-related bill that would have given religious schools and charities working for the state a free pass from the religious portion of the anti-discrimination statute.

On Monday, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma pushed the bill back to committee. Bosma told reporters that there were concerns the amendment would inevitably raise questions about its broad implications. On Tuesday, the committee voted to push the tax bill, but dropped Turner's amendment, effectively killing the exemption proposal for the year, Flynn told the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s a moot point now,” she said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that religious groups have broad discretion when it comes to hiring for roles that are related to religious instruction. Critics quickly panned the Indiana proposal as trying to stretch that discretion too far.

Turner said he proposed the amendment after receiving a letter last week from Indiana Weselyan's president. Their intention was to bring Indiana contracting law in line with that of the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice has interpreted federal laws as permitting faith-based groups to consider religion in hiring.

"What we were trying to do in working with the attorney general's office is mirror federal law to allow these faith-based institutions to continue contracts with the state," Turner told the committee  Tuesday. "I never intended this amendment to be anything more than that.

“I didn't quite understand the firestorm it would create,” he said.

Turner had already faced criticism this year over another measure he championed. It sought to ban same-sex marriage, but was eventually amended to delay a statewide vote on such a ban to at least 2016.

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