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Critics bash Louisiana governor on ‘religious freedom’ order

May 21, 2015

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called President Barack Obama “arrogant” and “cynical” last fall after the president issued an executive order addressing the hot-button social issue of illegal immigration.

Months later, Jindal is receiving the same type of criticism after issuing his own executive order protecting those who object to same-sex marriage.

The Republican governor’s order came hours after a House legal committee Tuesday voted down a divisive religious objections bill that Jindal, who is courting Christian conservatives for a likely presidential bid, had made a top priority. Jindal’s order seeks to enforce the spirit of the failed bill.

Now, some are questioning the weight of Jindal’s order, and whether he overstepped his authority by adopting a proposal the Legislature voted down.

As written, his order forbids state agencies from denying individuals, businesses and nonprofits any licenses, benefits, jobs or tax deductions because of action taken due to religious belief that marriage should be between a man and woman. Jindal said the order would extend several months beyond his administration’s end unless Louisiana’s next governor rescinds it.

Louisiana governors have wide-ranging powers during emergencies, like a hurricane, said Terry Ryder, a former Jindal appointee who previously served as the chief lawyer for two past governors, Republican Mike Foster and Democrat Kathleen Blanco. But, he said, “There is no emergency now.”

Because powers that come with a disaster do not apply, any executive order must comply with existing law, Ryder said.

Louisiana banned same-sex marriage and the state has no discrimination protections for gays and lesbians. But freshman Rep. Mike Johnson said he proposed the bill because he predicts the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down gay marriage bans across the country this summer.

As in Indiana and Arkansas, where backlash prompted changes to similar measures, LGBT supporters and big business opposed Johnson’s bill. Critics believe it would sanction discrimination against LGBT couples by sharply curtailing the state’s power to punish it.

Opponents of the bill question whether Jindal’s order will have any impact.

Stephen Perry, a vocal critic of the defeated bill, heads up the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. He dismissed Jindal’s order as having “very little practical impact.”

“Any belief that the executive order could enact law similar to that proposed by Rep. Johnson is simply unfounded and would not survive a court test,” said Perry, who was chief of staff to former Gov. Foster.

In a written statement, Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said the order prevents state agencies from penalizing people for a “religious belief in traditional marriage.”

No matter the effectiveness of the order, some see a political reward for Jindal simply for issuing it.

“He got what he wants, which is more visibility, getting talked about in the national media,” said Robert Hogan, an LSU political science professor. “And he can point to this, saying he’s fighting the good fight for the religious community.”

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