March 28, 2015

Statement by Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois

Equality Illinois denounces new laws in Indiana and under consideration in other states allowing the use of religious beliefs to discriminate and refuse service to LGBT people and other minorities, and rejects comparisons to the religious freedom law in Illinois.

We oppose legalized discrimination in Indiana under the guise of religious freedom. We are gravely concerned the new law will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community there or anyone who visits, works, conducts business, or must travel in the state.

In acting as if the new law is a benign effort at ensuring religious freedom, officials in Indiana, Arkansas and elsewhere have cited Illinois as one state that already has such laws. While a religious freedom law has been on the books in Illinois since 1998, that’s only half the story.

Both the Indiana and Illinois laws say there must be a compelling governmental interest to burden a person’s exercise of religion, but only Illinois provides that compelling governmental interest in the LGBT-inclusive Illinois Human Rights Act and an active Department of Human Rights to enforce it.

In contrast, Indiana’s law will take effect in a legal environment that provides no protections from discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers or visitors. Neither are there LGBT protections under Arkansas law.

Illinois has a rich history of ensuring the civil rights of all peoples, including the LGBT community. Since 2005, Illinois has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Illinois law addresses hate or bias crimes based on sexual orientation. Our LGBT students are protected by robust anti-bullying measures. And Illinois enacted marriage equality through the legislative process in 2013.

In Illinois, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and LGBT-inclusive provisions of the Human Rights Act have co-existed since 2005 and function to protect a person’s religious freedom while ensuring equal treatment of LGBT Illinoisans.

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