Indiana Law Protects Religious Freedom, Not Discrimination

Liberal intolerance has reached new heights. Those who have demanded tolerance of their beliefs have no tolerance for the beliefs of others.

That’s the take-home message of the furor incited by liberals over the passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Demonstrators storming the Indiana capitol and Governor Mike Pence insist this law will encourage discrimination against the gay and lesbian community.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board calls this The New Intolerance. They cite this as an example of liberals targeting religion rather than Indiana targeting gays. An historical perspective is needed to put this issue in context.

President Clinton Signs RFRA

The Indiana law is a version of the federal RFRA that passed 97-3 in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. This bill enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. The federal RFRA followed the Supreme Court’s Employment Division v. Smith ruling in 1990 that abandoned its 30-year precedent of reviewing religious liberty cases under strict scrutiny. Congress responded with RFRA, which merely reasserted longstanding First Amendment protections.

Since 1997, when the Supreme Court limited RFRA’s scope to federal actions, 19 states, including liberal strongholds Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Illinois, passed RFRA legislations of their own to give their states the same protections. Indiana is now the 20th state to do likewise.

Discrimination Not Allowed

This bill does not permit discrimination of anyone. It merely protects the religious freedom of Indiana residents as the federal law does of all Americans.

Governor Pence notes the support of Professor Daniel O. Conkle of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. Conkle writes:

“The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a ‘license to discriminate,’ and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”

Pence explains the law:

“RFRA only provides a mechanism to address claims, not a license for private parties to deny services. Even a claim involving private individuals under FRFA must show that one’s religious beliefs were “substantially burdened” and not in service to a broader government interest – which preventing discrimination certainly is. The government has the explicit power under the law to step in and define such interests.”

Hobby Lobby v. Burwell

The federal RFRA was used in defense of Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom in its lawsuit last year against the Obama administration. The ObamaCare law would have forced Hobby Lobby to violate their religious beliefs or pay daily fines of over $1.3 Million. The Supreme Court used RFRA to find in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Pence says Indiana needs its own law to provide Indiana residents the same protections since the federal RFRA law does not apply to states. Arkansas just passed a similar bill to the Indiana RFRA out of the same concerns for protecting religious freedom. Neither bill permits discrimination. Governor Asa Hutchinson is expected to sign the bill.

In both states, gay rights advocates are demanding intolerance of religious freedom in order to provide tolerance of their gay rights agenda. Who are the intolerant ones now?

The Wall Street Journal warns gay rights advocates of a possible backlash:

“The movement for state recognition of same-sex marriages has succeeded in changing public opinion by appealing to people’s sympathy and values like love and acceptance. They will lose this good will if they adopt the illiberal standard that “equality” must mean stomping on religious liberty.”

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