ACLU expecting more religious freedom bills in 2017 than ever

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  • More than 200 bills were introduced nationally in 2016
  • More than 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump

Washington (CNN)The ACLU expects more religious freedom bills to be introduced in 2017 than ever before following the election of Donald Trump.

More than 200 bills were introduced nationally in 2016 that the ACLU characterizes as discriminating against gay people in the name of religious freedom.
"We expect the volume to continue to rise in 2017, both because we have more conservative state governments than in the past, and also since our side defeated an overwhelming majority of bills in 2016," ACLU Advocacy and Policy Counsel Eunice Rho told CNN.
    While the civil rights group acknowledged that not all religious bills explicitly target LGBT Americans, there's some concern at the ACLU that legislation aimed at religious freedom will allow Americans to discriminate against gay people in same-sex marriages.
    "In addition to these bills, we also anticipate an increase in volume of bills targeting transgender people," Rho said.
    But Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, rejected the idea that the purpose of religious freedom bills is to allow Christians to discriminate against sexual minorities.
    And he said if 2017 brings more religious liberty bills, there's a reason.
    The year "2017 probably will result in many religious liberty bills," Moore told CNN. "That's because of the erosion of religious freedom protections in recent years. Without adequate protection, freedom of conscience is left up courts they are often hostile to the most basic protections of the First Amendment."
    Trump, who won more than 80% of evangelical voters, told voters that they'd lose their religious freedom if Clinton was elected.
    "The truth is, religious liberty is under tremendous stress. Second Amendment is under stress, if Hillary Clinton gets in you're not going to have religious liberty," he told David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network.
    While Trump's relationship with evangelicals is relatively new, his second-in-command has long carried the support of the faith community that helped send Trump to the White House.
    But ACLU leaders believe Pence could see the same blowback that he did when he advocated for religious freedom laws at the state level.
    "It's clear that Mike Pence as VP will be able to push for greater religious exemption measures at the federal level, following up on his pro-exemption and anti-LGBT, anti-woman record in Indiana," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT Project. "But there's no reason to think that the public, business leaders, performers, or sports leagues will be any more receptive to anti-LGBT measures in 2017 than they have been in the past."
    "Vice President-elect Pence should think long and hard before he tries to nationalize this discriminatory, divisive strategy," he added.
    Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said because so many voters backed Trump because of his vocal support for religious freedom it is unclear if the business community will respond in 2017 the same way they have in the past.
    "When you saw Apple and the NBA and the NCAA all boycotting a state all because those businesses disagree with a religious liberty piece of legislation, that's not how normal policy is conducted," he told CNN. "So it would be interesting to see if something like this (bills) would be successful in a post-Trump America."