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Again: In Louisiana, Jindal’s Religious Freedom Order Threatens Tourism

3 Jun, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Seeking to Appeal to Conservatives Ahead of Presidential Run, Governor Tries to Shore Up Dwindling Popularity with Divisive Measure

Louisiana lawmakers apparently learned a valuable lesson from the effect of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Indiana’s tourism market.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, not so much.

After state lawmakers shelved a divisive religious objections bill, Jindal, who is courting Christian conservatives for a likely presidential bid, gave a perfect illustration of a knee-jerk reaction to the defeat, seeking to enact the bill's provisions without legislative support.

The bill went from being “The Marriage and Conscience Act” to “The Marriage and Conscience Order.”

Jindal’s plan would prohibit the state from denying individuals, businesses and nonprofits any licenses, benefits, jobs or tax deductions because of action taken "in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction" about marriage. That, say critics, would in effect sanction discrimination against LGBT couples and customers, and also would cripple the tourism industry in a state that depends on it.

According to Yahoo! News, both Republicans and Democrats on a House legal committee voted 10-2 for a procedural move designed to kill the proposal, ending weeks of controversy about the bill and handing Jindal a significant defeat for his legislative agenda.

Hours after the bill was rejected, Jindal issued an executive order aimed at doing the same thing as the bill, only on a smaller scale limited to the executive branch.

"What we are seeing today in America is an all-out assault on religious liberty," said Jindal, who called the executive order the "next best thing" to signing the bill.

One of the most vocal critics of the original bill – and of Jindal’s move – is Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Perry dismissed Jindal's order as "largely a political statement" that "will have very little practical impact."

Perry, a former chief of staff to one of the state's previous Republican governors, said case law and even the state constitution limit the governor's ability to rule by fiat.

"No Executive Order of a governor may create substantive law, even in an emergency situation," he said in a statement.

Proponents of the bill say they intend to push for another hearing in this legislative session.

Yeah, good luck with that, given the incredibly visible effects of RFRA in Indiana.

In an article entitled, “Dear God, Please Just Say No to Governor Bobby Jindal,” the Huffington Post noted,

Tourism officials predict Louisiana will lose hundreds of millions of dollars of business and at least $65 million each year in tax revenues alone. Until now, tourism was Louisiana's third largest industry. Jindal's action effectively makes Louisiana ineligible for consideration for the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball tournament, the NBA All Star games and numerous professional and corporate conventions. Big corporations like IBM and Dow Chemical also came out against the action.

The Louisiana Democratic Party accused Jindal of being determined to "wreck" the state's tourism industry and called the executive order a "stunt."

"Louisiana taxpayers and businesses are once again being forced to foot the bill for Jindal's vanity," Stephen Handwerk, the party's executive director, said in a statement.

In a recent editorial, The Atlantic Magazine noted that Jindal’s approval rating has dropped following a string of bad decisions, some of which appear to be the result of his presidential aspirations:

 “Bobby Jindal isn’t crazy, but he has been acting a bit strange. He came to office the object of high hopes: a Rhodes Scholar, a health-policy wonk, and an intellectual who for a time headed the state-university system. He seemed like a rising star that heralded the dawn of a new, diverse Republican Party. ‘We’ve got to stop being the stupid party,’ he said only two years ago. Now his public proclamations are of impending doom for Christianity, and the peril of sharia law. Ambition can do strange things to even a powerful intellect.”

Perry, who has called the bill a ‘radioactive’ subject, continues to champion the cause of the state’s tourism economy. To adopt such a measure, he noted, would make Louisiana "complicit in officially state-sanctioned bigotry.”

Jindal, he stated, is "attempting to ... carve out the ability to discriminate, the ability to be bigoted.”

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