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Critics bash Louisiana governor on ‘religious freedom’ order

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — “Arrogant” and “cynical” — that’s what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called President Barack Obama 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.

Similar measures have been pushed by social and political conservatives around the country as same-sex marriage is increasingly being approved by federal courts and state governments. The defeated bill in Louisiana would have gone further, sharply curtailing the state’s ability to punish those who discriminate against same-sex couples, critics say.

As written, Jindal’s 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.

Louisiana governors have wide-ranging powers during emergencies, like a hurricane, said Terry Ryder, a former Jindal appointee who previously served as 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.

“If he exceeds that, then he has exceeded the authority granted to him by the Legislature,” Ryder said.

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

Twenty states have passed religious objections laws over the years, and social conservatives have recently renewed efforts to pass more of them. Over 15 states have considered such laws this year, though only Arkansas and Indiana enacted them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As in Indiana and Arkansas, where backlash prompted changes to the laws, LGBT supporters and big business opposed Johnson’s bill.

In response to Jindal’s order, at least two New York lawmakers have called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to “ban all non-essential state-funded travel to Louisiana.”

However, some question whether Jindal’s order will have any impact.

“On its face, Gov. Jindal’s executive order is overreaching and more than likely unenforceable,” said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the second-highest ranking House member. “It is deeply disappointing that he has taken this extreme action.”

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.”

“Let me make this clear,” Reed said. “Our executive order does not create new law. It protects religious liberty as provided in our Constitution.”

When asked about his criticism of Obama in light of his own actions, Jindal said steps taken by the president were different from his — which he described as “routine.”

“If he were issuing executive orders consistent with the law and the Constitution, I’ve got no problem with that,” Jindal said.

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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