HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A group of state lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf urging him to ramp up efforts to pass anti-discrimination legislation here in Pennsylvania.
Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus sent the letter to Wolf Wednesday following the recent passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015.
In the letter the lawmakers called Indiana’s law “tantamount to a resurrection of Jim Crow. It flies in the face of all the progress our nation has made on civil rights issues.”
Read the full letter here:
Dear Governor Wolf:
We write this open letter to you today in our capacity as members of the Pennsylvania LGBT Equality Caucus.
The state of Indiana recently enacted into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015. You may have read claims that over a dozen others state and the federal government have laws that are similar to Indiana’s new statute. On behalf of the community we strive to represent, we want to be clear that these claims are false.
The Indiana statute differs from federal law and the statutes in all but one of the other states in a material and dramatic way. The other statutes that purport to protect religious freedom only apply to transactions between the government and an individual. So, for example, those statutes would apply if a state Department of Corrections made a Muslim prisoner shave his beard in a way inconsistent with his religious beliefs. In that instance, the prisoner could invoke the statute to protect his religiously-based right to grow his beard.
In contrast, the Indiana statute applies to transactions between individuals and private, for-profit entities. This means that if a restaurant owner has religious objections to serving a gay person, or an African-American, or a Jewish person, the restaurant owner could refuse those individuals service. In fact, Indiana’s Speaker of the House, a Republican, said this weekend that a business owner could actually place a “Gays Not Welcome” sign in the business’s window.
This new law is tantamount to a resurrection of Jim Crow. It flies in the face of all the progress our nation has made on civil rights issues. Although any group can be victimized by this new statute, we know that the catalyst for it was the expansion of gay rights in recent years. Thus, as members of the LGBT Equality Caucus, we feel we have heightened standing to raise this issue.
If this law stands in Indiana, it is likely to metastasize to other states fairly quickly. Just yesterday the Arkansas legislature passed a similar bill. Governor, we urge you to stand with the people of Indiana and the nation in making it clear that this sort of law is unacceptable.
Here in Pennsylvania, while we do not have the sort of aggressive endorsement of discrimination that the Indiana law represents, we still do not have a statewide anti-discrimination law that covers members of the LGBT community. While many of our municipalities have passed their own anti-discrimination ordinances, many of our citizens still have no legal protection against the sort of bigotry that results in people being denied service by private companies. We urge you to redouble your efforts to work with the legislature to pass a bill that you have already said you will sign.
Governor Wolf, you are seen as a great champion of civil rights. There is nothing more consistent with your long history in this regard than taking a stand against this horrific and dangerous injustice.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.
Very Truly Yours,
Senator Daylin Leach, Senate Chairperson, LGBT Equality Caucus
Representative Dan Frankel, House Chairperson, LGBT Equality Caucus
Senator Vincent Hughes, Member, LGBT Equality Caucus
Senator Larry Farnese, Member, LBGT Equality Caucus