Earlier today, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 568, better known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law, reports NPR. The legislation decrees that the state "may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability".
In a press release, Governor Pence invoked the Hobby Lobby Case case and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act while defending his support for the bill. Pence claims to have signed the bill to support "the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith" at a time when "many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action". He denied that the bill would allow discrimination in Indiana.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.LGBTQ rights activists, civil liberties advocates, and political leaders warn that the legislation will legalize discrimination. Indianapolis mayor Greg Balland released a statement claiming that "RFRA send the wrong signal" and that he doesn't believe the legislation accurately reflects Indiana or Indianapolis, reports Fox 59.
The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.
One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.
Fortunately, in the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means.
Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action. At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes. And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action.
In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.
This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.
Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith."
Meanwhile, business leaders worry that the legislation will make it difficult for Indian businesses to recruit and retain workers, while sports and entertainment leaders warn that the legislation could have negative economic impacts. NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement expressing concern about how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could impact its athletes and employees. (Hat tip to the Washington Post.) The CEO of Gen Con, which hosts an annual gaming convention in Indiana, sent a letter to Mike Pence warning that, "Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against out attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years." (Hat tip to Gay Star News.)
Some faith groups found the bill offensive as well. According to Christianity Today, the Disciples of Christ may decide against holding their 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis due to the bill. "We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race," its leaders wrote in a recent press release.
The effects of this legislation remain to be seen, but the implications are disturbing. What recourse will LGBTQ people have if business owners refuse to serve them on account of religious homophobia? What about employees whose employers look askance at their sexual orientation or reproductive health practices? When did religious sentiments trump so many other rights in this country?
The reasoning behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should be familiar to all of us by now. The Religious Right's persecution complex, the myth of endangered "religious liberty", and the idea that faith trumps other people's rights are driving new legislation with worrisome implications. Bigotry rooted in religion is still bigotry, and no amount of religious belief justifies discrimination.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Mic: "Religious Freedom" Bills Are the Newest Front in the War on LGBT Americans
Media Matters: Fox News' Dishonest Defense Of Indiana's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Law
The New Civil Rights Movement: Indiana Governor Mike Pence Has Signed 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law