I live in Indiana, home of the newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Like yours, my newsfeed has become an uncouth display of knee-jerk reactions to Governor Mike Pence signing RFRA into law. Rather than taking the time to consider its true purpose, people across the nation have taken the legislation for face value, making wild claims about the moral character of Indiana and its governor. This is the same kind of emotional uproar the Hobby Lobby verdict produced last year, which I also disputed. Alas, the public continues to misinterpret religious freedom legislation. Much to my chagrin, I now argue again that religious freedom is not legalized discrimination; it’s a safeguard for personal liberties. If you’re fuming at Mike Pence and by extension, Indiana, not only are you wrong, but you might even agree with the law if you bothered to look into what it actually does.
Before getting into the logistics of why this law is not straight from hell, I have provided a few fun facts about RFRA legislation:
- RFRA is a federal law, signed in 1993 by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
- It was introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.
- It was ruled unconstitutional to apply the law to the states, however.
- Thus, each state has the autonomy to enact versions of the law, as Indiana has just done.
- In fact 19 other states have already enacted versions of RFRA – with little to no controversy.
- So, if you’re going to #BoycottIndiana, you’ll also have to #BoycottAlabama, #BoycottArizona, #BoycottConnecticut, #BoycottFlorida, #BoycottIdaho, #BoycottIllinois, #BoycottKansas, #BoycottKentucky, #BoycottLouisiana, #BoycottMississippi (who enacted theirs just last year!), #BoycottMissouri, #BoycottNewMexico, #BoycottOklahoma, #BoycottPennsylvania, #BoycottRhodeIsland, #BoycottSouthCarolina, #BoycottTennessee, #BoycottTexas, and #BoycottVirginia – that is, if you want to be logically consistent.
- President Obama voted for RFRA legislation as a Senator in Illinois
- Oh, and 13 additional states are currently considering similar legislation.
However, before you go boycotting forty percent of the United States, try looking past the sensationalized headlines and snarky Facebook statuses, and consider what the law is actually meant to do. It does not stipulate that business owners can beat gays out of their establishment with a stick – this would be assault, and they would be arrested. What it does say is this:
A state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest…
This is in adherence with the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Essentially, this means that government cannot impose a religion on the people, and the people may practice whatever religion they like. (more…)