Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom Restoration’ Bill

In case you missed it, Indiana Governor Mike Pence angered many yesterday by signing into law a bill that critics say could lead to discrimination in the LGBT community. Gov. Pence explained to CNN that the bill provides protection to businesses “if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs.” The example he cited to illustrate this point was the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case – a case about employers being forced to provide certain types of birth control to employees. While the comparison is perfectly consistent in my mind, it may seem somewhat opaque and enigmatic to others. In the age of sound bites, hashtags, and twitter wars, some Americans might be left scratching their heads. So when Miley Cyrus, who is no less noxious for her popularity, tweets out her recent afflatus about the issue, some may actually be persuaded to agree. How, after all, does refusing a service to someone in the LGBT community correlate with businesses providing birth control to employees? Again, I don’t disagree with the legal precedent but, I wonder, does this win the hearts and minds of the public?

In fact, Gov. Pence’s legally precise explanation only highlights the fact that there was no precipitating event leading to this legislation – at least not in the state of Indiana. So one might wonder what problem, exactly, was the state government trying to ameliorate here?

The reality is – thanks to the biased reporting at CNN – many perceive this as an unprovoked attack on an unsuspecting minority group.

Here are some pertinent facts that would have served the governor well had he simply made them available:

The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer, and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.

In a 1997 Supreme Court case (City of Boerne v. Flores), the court held that federal RFRA was generally inapplicable against state and local laws. Since then, a number of states have enacted their own RFRA statutes: Indiana became the twentieth to do so.

There is no significant difference between Indiana’s law and the federal law.

Indiana’s RFRA does not grant a license to discriminate. First of all, the state of Indiana, like 28 other states, has never prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation at public accommodations. Even without such laws in most states, discrimination doesn’t commonly occur because the United States is a nation that is tolerant of gay people and intolerant of bigots.

So why is Indiana passing this law now? What is at stake?

Consider this, not that long ago, the only reason a Catholic archbishop made news was by defying Church teaching. Recently, here in California, they generate headlines by simply following it. Look no further than San Francisco where some feel entitled to impose their “absolute freedom” morality on Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. He is being targeted for doing nothing more than upholding church teaching. His latest offense is that he expects San Francisco’s Catholic schools teachers and administrators “to refrain from anti-Catholic activism.” Further, he said in February, “To that end, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to which the Catholic Church holds to be true.”

A group of Bay Area lawmakers, who are often the first to invoke the “separation of church and state,” felt free to fire off a letter to Cordileone demanding that he hire opponents of Catholic teaching.

They wrote that his policy “strikes a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history. We are known and beloved around the world for our celebration of diversity, our political activism, and our unwavering commitment to ensure that all people may live with dignity as equals.”

In my mind, Archbishop Cordileone has not only the right but the obligation to ensure that Catholic schools under his supervision represent the faith accurately.

So, with this in mind, I understand when Gov. Mike Pence signs into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is a preventative measure to block the political activism of some who, truth be told, want to dictate church orthopraxy.

Is this a real problem in Indiana? I am not sure. In fact, in the governor’s mind, I think it is beside the point. Gov. Pence seems to believe that the biggest enemy to the state of Indiana is a federal government that continues to gorge itself on human freedom – including religious freedom. I tend to agree. In other words, this decree is, in reality, aimed at limiting Washington DC, not the green-lighting of discrimination towards any particular minority group – but I am not sure he has made that clear.

I have several friends who are homosexual, some of whom identify with the LGBT community and activism – some of whom do not. For those who do, I would say this. We all need to understand the nature of freedom. Too many people worship the idea of absolute freedom, rather than understanding that freedoms, apart from certain limitations, are actually incoherent. For example, you cannot have the absolute freedom of speech (Constitutional Amendment 1), while I have the absolute freedom to a good name (Constitutional Amendment 14). At some point the exercise of our freedoms will eventually collide.

That is exactly the point to this new law, you can have the freedom to a homosexual marriage, as long as I have the freedom not to participate. This law is intended to protect those who have always enjoyed the freedom of religion to continue doing so – a religion which, by the way, obliges men and women to operate in the public square according to certain values.

Freedom, without the regulating influence of a higher standard, produces chaos. Our country’s forefathers understood this, which is why they were all, at the very least, deists. This country has always been rooted in Judea-Christian values. If we are today being asked to send to Coventry those ideals and values, my question is this: what system of morality will take its place in facilitating the preservation of peace?

I feel for my homosexual friends. I understand how this might feel intimidating. In fact, I am not sure this law solves anything or prevents anything. On the other hand, I see this bill by Governor Pence as a reaction to an intrusive federal government, it does protect businesses like the Catholic schools mentioned above. It is not the unsolicited, proactive attack some would have you believe.

The point of RFRA is not to discriminate against gay Americans. It is supposed to prevent the government from discriminating against religious Americans.

 

 

 

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