‘Despicable bigot’: Louisiana Republicans clash over ‘religious freedom’ bill criticized by IBM
A Republican official in Baton Rouge, Louisiana lashed out at a fellow GOP member in the state legislature over a “religious freedom” bill that has drawn criticism from tech giant IBM, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
City council member John Delgado (pictured above) called state Rep. Mike Johnson a “despicable bigot of the highest order” for introducing House Bill 707.
“Bigotry is bad for business, and it’s only common sense that they would recognize that and call this bill what it is,” Delgado said. “That Governor [Bobby] Jindal thinks we’re too stupid to recognize it is also not surprising.”
The “Marriage and Conscience Act,” as Johnson’s bill is called, would prevent businesses from losing tax deductions or their licenses for acting “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage.”
Johnson, an attorney who has worked with several Christian conservative groups — including the Family Research Council, which has been categorized as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — denied that the bill is discriminatory, while also criticizing Delgado’s remarks.
“I believe we need to raise the level of kindness and civility in our public discourse, and not resort to name-calling,” Johnson said. “I guess I am old-fashioned in this sense, but I’d like to believe that well-intentioned people with different ideologies can still reason together respectfully and derive at public policy decisions that serve the best interests of all.”
The Shreveport Times reported that IBM, which is expanding its operations in the state, contacted Jindal urging him to ensure that Johnson’s proposal does not pave the way for businesses to get a pass on discriminating against LGBT customers because of their religious beliefs.
“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,” the company said in a letter. “IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law.”
IBM’s appeal to Jindal follows boycott threats against both Indiana and Arkansas from tech companies over similar legislation.
An official at Louisiana State University, which is located in Baton Rouge, told the Times-Picayune that the bill could also potentially impact the school’s ability to recruit students and faculty.
“There’s no missing the fact that the university recruits from far and wide,” faculty senate president Kevin Cope said. “There will be a certain number of potential students or potential faculty members who will look at this and they will conclude that Louisiana is culturally regressive and not an appropriate or desirable environment.”
Jindal, a possible GOP presidential contender, has defended the bill thus far, while also saying that comparing anti-LGBT discrimination to race-based prejudice is offensive.
“Obviously it was wrong for people to treat people differently based on the color of their skin,” he said. “That’s offensive and I don’t think that is ever acceptable. I think it’s wrong, however, to compare [it to] the millions of Americans as well as folks worldwide who hold traditional religious beliefs when it comes to marriage.”