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What’s the Difference Between Kentucky and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Laws?

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Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law has drawn national attention because of the worry that it could be used to defend discriminatory behavior in the state.

Kentucky has its own religious freedom law, but it's not precisely the same as Indiana's. Kentucky's law only applies to government burdening individual religious freedom; the Indiana law can apply to an individual burdening another individuals' beliefs.

“The Indiana law says that it applies to any dispute between private actors a company and a customer or two individuals,” says University of Louisville law professor Samuel Marcosson.

“The Kentucky law requires that the burden that they say is being placed on their religious beliefs has to be the result of government action.”

The proprietors of a 500-foot long replica of Noah's ark are currently using Kentucky's religious freedom law to sue the state for refusing to include the project in a tourism tax break.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he wants his state’s General Assembly to amend the law to clarify that businesses would not have the right to deny services to anyone.

As it stands the law could be used to deny services, including refusing a business patron based on sexual orientation, Marcosson said.

The Indianapolis Star reports that lawmakers have proposed revising the law so that businesses wouldn't be able to deny services based on sexual orientation, religion, race and other factors. In that draft, churches and religious non-profits would still be able to deny services if they thought their religious beliefs were burdened.

Kentucky’s religious freedom law passed the General Assembly two years ago. The law was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear but overridden by both chambers of the legislature.

In his veto statement, Beshear said he had “significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights.”

Kentucky avoided most of the national backlash that Indiana has received recently.

National businesses, including Apple, Marriott and Indianapolis-based NCAA have spoken out against Indiana’s law, and Angie’s List has canceled a $40 million expansion of its headquarters in Indianapolis.

Several governors and mayors across the country have also banned government-funded travel to Indiana.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.