Despite polls now showing that more Americans support same-sex marriage than not, Indiana has managed to pass a religious freedom law that targets the LGBT community. Signed by Governor Mike Pence, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows businesses to deny service to any person who they feel violates their religious beliefs. There is no statewide legislation to protect against this kind of discrimination, however some larger cities, such as Indianapolis, do have their own laws.
An amendment suggested by Democrats to forbid discrimination was shot down, highlighting the true reason behind the law. Therefore, if the Indiana legislature is going to pass such a reactionary bill, they should at least admit to its intentions.
People seem to wrongfully feel that the words “religious freedom” provide a sense of invincibility. The title of the law is just a misleading way to sugarcoat the truth and claim that critics are against religious freedom, which could not be more inaccurate.
The only exclusion to the law is if there is a “compelling interest” in which the government could intervene, such as a threat to public safety. Many have drawn parallels to Indiana’s new law and the national religious freedom law that passed during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which is still a law today, was intended to protect individual rights that were facing discrimination, such as Muslims wearing headscarves or Indian traditions. The important difference to note is that Indiana’s law extends to businesses, implying that they can use religious freedom as a defense platform in court. However, a later amendment was passed barring this, excluding schools and churches. While both laws are about religious freedom, the timing of them is indicative of its purpose. Clinton wanted to protect those in the minority, while Indiana wanted to exclude them.
The law has yet to show if there will be an adverse impact on how customers are treated, but the mere fact that it passed has caused justified backlash. People have taken to social media to voice their outrage, including some big names in politics such as Hillary Clinton, who tweeted, “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.” Even more noteworthy, companies are choosing to boycott Indiana by halting government funded travel to the state and cancelling events. All sources of entertainment, from sports to comedians, are rearranging schedules to avoid Indiana. The state is going to be economically hurt, especially since Angie’s List cancelled the expansion of their headquarters in Indianapolis as a result of the law, a $40 million endeavor that would have created about 1,000 jobs over 5 years, according to USA TODAY.
While the new law is deplorable, it is reassuring to see a range from individuals to large corporations banding together to fight back. Luckily it appears as though the majority of America will no longer idly stand by while others are discriminated against, especially on a state level. Civil rights may allow people practice religion freely, but that does not mean they can be used to hurt or limit the rights of others.
Peaceful protest has apparently been successful, as Indiana lawmakers are now saying they are working on an amendment that will not allow for discrimination. Recently, Arkansas was in the works of passing a similar religious freedom bill to Indiana, but upon seeing the outcry against it, the Governor stated it needed to be revised before he signed it, according to CNN.
Labeling bigotry as religious freedom is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. As a business, you are offering a service that must be extended to all individuals not just the ones you pick and choose. If someone can use religious freedom as justification, where do you draw the line? An individual could claim essentially anything to be in violation of their beliefs.
People used to use religious freedom as an excuse to perpetuate segregation among races. Laws prohibiting such discrimination are now in place, which now needs to be extended to the LGBT community. Hopefully the public’s reaction towards Indiana will remind all lawmakers in the future of what we consider to be the difference between protecting personal freedoms and projecting hatred.
Marisa Nobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.