Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Dust Settles After Indiana's RFRA Controversy

So-called religious freedom laws, which critics claim would legalize discrimination on the grounds of religion, have been a source of controversy in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Recent upheavals in the wake of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act serve as both a warning and a source of hope for those who oppose such laws.

Back in March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed his state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. Pence signed the bill while surrounded by Religious Right activists, an inauspicious sign for pro-LGBTQ observers. Backlash from LGBTQ rights advocates, high-powered business interests, and enlightened political leaders was swift.

However, several Religious Right figures, including media voices and political candidates, celebrated the first iteration of Indiana's RFRA as a victory for religious freedom. For example, in a March 29th press release, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins commended Indiana for adopting RFRA. "What is unfolding in Indiana reveals the source of true intolerance; those who want the government to punish people for freely living according to their beliefs," he wrote.

Other Religious Right figures sneered at opposition to Indiana's RFRA. In a commentary piece for Charisma News , Michael Brown was disgusted by the "histrionics" and "shrill outcry" from RFRA opponents. Brown likened LGBTQ rights activists to bullies and warned that "any legislature that stands up for our essential freedoms can expect a similar firestorm."
"Now is the time to make it clear that we're not about to back down or cave in to the pressure and bad press, declaring once again that the bullying will back fire.

As I've said many times before, the unspoken mantra of gay activism is, "We will intimidate and we will manipulate until you capitulate."

The response of millions of freedom-loving Americans remains the same: We're not going to capitulate.

We will love our LGBT friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members, but we will not surrender our freedoms."
Religious Right applause notwithstanding, public outrage persisted, and Pence went on the defensive. In a transcript of his March 31st speech posted at Slate, Gov. Pence defended signing Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, denying that the law sanctioned discrimination. "I abhor discrimination", Pence insisted, calling criticism of Indiana's RFRA "mischaracterization and confusion".
"Let me say first and foremost I was proud to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week ... the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is about religious liberty, not about discrimination. As I said last week, had this law been about legalizing discrimination I would have vetoed it. This law does not give anyone a license to discriminate. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana does not give anyone the right to deny services to anyone in this state. It is simply a balancing test used by our federal courts and jurisdictions across the country for more than two decades."
However, Pence asked for legislation stating that "this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."
"After much reflection and in consultation with leadership of the general assembly, I've come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny service to anyone. Let me say that again. I think it would be helpful, and I'd like to see on my desk before the end of this week, legislation that is added to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone. We want to make it clear that Indiana's open for business. We want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it's our way of life."
Indiana's RFRA would later undergo changes. New language was added to Indiana's RFRA forbidding discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc., reports Fox 59. Reactions to the changes were mixed, with some observers praising the changes and other complaining that the changes did not go far enough.

Pence's speech and the eventual changes to RFRA ignited a firestorm among the far right. The Religious Right quickly responded, with some insisting that Indiana's original RFRA did not sanction discrimination, and others blasting the left and the LGBTQ community. For example, Concerned Women for America posted a series of talking points, defending state RFRAs against alleged assaults on religious liberty. Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance penned a commentary piece for the Blaze in which she demonized the "radical left" as an enemy of truth. "The far left and it’s cronies of Silicon Valley, most of whom don’t even know people who are religious, see the need to force people of faith to not just tolerate but to participate in the rituals of “gay marriage," she wrote.
"The loss of our religious freedom signals the loss of freedom for everyone, period. That is why we must stand now. This day. We must sound the alarm with a sense of urgency, for the time is running out.

I know the political power is against religious liberty right now. When we see business giants like Apple, who is close to becoming the first company worth a trillion dollars, using their power to bully states into submission against religious liberty, you know we are truly overmatched in economic terms.

This means that if we are to win, we must win against all odds. And if we are going to win against the odds, we can’t play the odds, as some “conservatives” are suggesting we do. We must stand boldly and speak Biblical truth. That means that with much grace and mercy we decline to participate in ANY commerce or activity that is in direct violation of God’s laws. We are the new conscientious objectors to our culture. If we bow now, what will be next?"
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins issues a press release insisting that Indiana's RFRA did not sanction discrimination.
"The governor addressed the complete falsehood that RFRA is about denying people a seat in a restaurant or a room at a hotel. Christians would never deny people these services but being forced to participate in a ceremony that violates religious beliefs is completely un-American and uncivil. We must ensure that religious business owners are not forced by the government to participate in a same-sex ceremony."
During the April 1st edition of Focal Point, Bryan Fischer warned that concessions to the "homosexual lobby" would compel people to serve customers against their will and thus perform "involuntary servitude". (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"I'm afraid Governor Pence is dangerously close to allowing the homosexual lobby to get the state of Indiana to compel people ... to provide labor against their will. What do we call it when people are compelled to provide labor against their will? Involuntary labor. What do we call that, ladies and gentlemen? That is involuntary servitude. That is slavery. That is something that is forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment."
During the April 2nd edition of Generations with Vision, Kevin Swanson was stunned by the "pushback" against "religious liberty". At the 7:21 mark, he had this to say.
"Religious freedoms is the issue of the day if you are one of 35 million evangelical Americans. You need to be aware that the battle for religious freedom is heating up in Indiana and all over America, but wow! The pushback to any possibility of religious liberty in Indiana has been unprecedented. I'm just amazed."
The progress of Indiana's original RFRA law, and controversies over similar laws in other states, should serve as warnings that the Religious Right's crusade for "religious liberty" should not be ignored. The Religious Right will not relent in its demands for special treatment and license to discriminate. However, the public outcry against the original form of RFRA, as well as the new anti-discrimination language added to the bill, reminds us that activism pays. When concerned citizens, business leaders, and politicians took a stand against Indiana's RFRA, it brought about positive changes and sent a clear message to RFRA's defenders. If supporters of equality can remain this organized, focused, and passionate, we can make great strides.

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