Freedom or Discrimination: Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

I don’t talk about politics or religion very often on this blog because I feel like people get enough of that in their daily lives.  But this topic was one I felt compelled to say something about.

Recently, Indiana put forth something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which proponents of the bill say is to protect the religious freedoms of the people of Indiana.  Opponents have challenged that the bill could be used to deny services to people who are gay based on religious grounds.  But first, a history lesson is in order.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is by no means the first of its kind to come about.  Twenty-some odd states have their own versions of the law.  The origin of the RFRA comes from 1993, when it was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton.  It was designed to protect religious groups from being burdened by a law enacted by the state.  However, the Supreme Court decided that the law did not apply in all states, forcing each state to separately come up with their own version of RFRA.

So if so many other states have passed these laws, why is Indiana becoming such a big point of controversy?  For one, the others states passed their RFRAs a long time ago, whereas Governor Mike Pence only decided to enact theirs in the aftermath of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) being repealed and other such landmark events in the gay rights movement.  The other issue is the language of the law.  The other RFRAs refer mainly to non-profit entities, whereas Indiana’s refers specifically to for-profit organizations as well. Whether this is all a calculated movement or just bad timing on Governor Pence’s part remains to be seen.

Those who know me or have followed my blog for a while know what side I fall on when it comes to gay rights.  I’m of the mind that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the right to be married.  Christians seem to think they have a monopoly on marriage when that simply isn’t true.  Marriage customs have existed in cultures that aren’t Christian, some even predating Christianity.  Besides, no law legalizing gay marriage is going to force churches to marry gay couples because it can’t.  All it would do would open the option to churches, something I don’t think a lot of opponents of gay marriage really understand.

There are churches out there that still refuse to perform interracial marriages…just so you know.

But I digress.  Indiana’s law is controversial because it’s so broad and vague.  I’ve read the actual text of the law (which you can find here), and I can’t really understand where they were going with it.  And that’s a problem.

When you create a law that’s too vague, you open it up to interpretations that could be harmful to people even if you never intended it.  That’s the problem with Indiana’s law.  It’s far too open, so much so to the point that it could be theoretically be used to discriminate against gay people.  But despite Governor Pence repeatedly insisting that’s not the case with RFRA, he refuses to place the LGBT community under Indiana’s list of people protected from discrimination.  So if it’s not meant to allow business owners to discriminate against gay people, what exactly is it meant to do?

Governor Pence keeps saying that the law is meant to protect the religious freedom of the people of Indiana, but how exactly?  What exactly do they need protecting against?  The RFRA was crafted mainly to protect minority religious groups (Pence can say his version is for people of all faiths, but it’s clear he has only the one in mind).  And if all it’s for is to protect religious freedom, why not just place gay people under discrimination protection?  If this law has nothing to do with discrimination, then why is that such an issue?

I also just want to point out how ironic it is that Governor Pence is claiming the only reason the law stirred controversy is because of “shameless rhetoric” when he’s using the same rhetoric that proponents of the Arizona SB1062 law used.  For those who don’t know, the SB1062 law was a law put forth in Arizona that would have allowed business owners to turn away gay people based on religious grounds.  Proponents of the law claimed it was to protect their religious freedom.  Sound familiar?  Thankfully that law was shot down and never employed.

Whatever the law’s intention was, the damage has already been done.  Numerous organizations and business have joined a boycott of Indiana.  The state can still recover from this and reclaim its reputation, but its going to take some compromising.

I honestly don’t understand why religious freedom and protecting gay people from discrimination can’t co-exist.  Instead, it seems like the proponents of this law are dead set on pitting one against the other, all while claiming that they’re doing nothing of the sort.  Well you can talk all you want, but your actions tell us the real story.  And it’s not a good one.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everybody.

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