INDIANAPOLIS — Religious institutions that receive state and local government contracts would be allowed to make hiring decisions based upon religion under a bill approved Tuesday by the Indiana Senate.
Senators voted 39-11 in favor of the proposal, which also allows the requirement that employees conform to the organization's religious tenets.
Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle said he sponsored the bill to restore the ability of religious institutions such as Indiana Wesleyan University to receive state workforce training grants.
The state attorney general's office determined last year that the Marion-based university's religious lifestyle mandate violated state contracting requirements against employment discrimination.
Holdman said the change would not give organizations a legal license to discriminate.
"It just says we're going to pull ourselves in line with federal law that allows for this type of carve-out, this type of exemption, for faith-based organizations," he said.
Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage argued the bill's language permitting religious institutions to require all employees to conform to their faith tenets was too broad, and that it was unclear who would enforce such requirements and how employees would know what they had to follow.
"Are they going to be given a list?" she said. "Are they going to have to take religion classes?"
Tallian said she worried the provisions could lead to many lawsuits.
"This goes well beyond hiring the secretary for the church office — especially when you have religious-based organizations like large universities or large hospitals," she said.
Holdman said the bill was needed for the state to continue entering contracts with religious groups for activities such as operating day care centers and placing children in foster care.
"All of this is done because the alternative is for the state of Indiana to hire all those people to do that," he said.
The proposal now goes to the House for consideration.
A similar measure was briefly considered in the House last year when then-Rep. Eric Turner added it to another bill before House Speaker Brian Bosma pulled it after controversy emerged over it.