How to respond to complaints about Indiana’s new religious freedom law

Good news to start your day!
Good news to start your day!

First, the story, from the Daily Signal:

A bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been signed into law by the governor.

Supporters of Indiana Senate Bill 101 say that the law protects the free practice of religion, and opponents say the law will allow gay and lesbian individuals to be discriminated against.

For example, the law could permit business owners who felt that being forced to serve a certain customer in a particular case violated their religious beliefs to appeal to a judge. The courts would then decide if their objection was valid or not.

The bill was passed by the House 63-31 on Monday, and was approved by the Senate 40-10.

Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind.,  approved the legislation today.

“Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance and values of our people, and that will never change,” Pence said in a statement. “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.”

This is the key part:

Sarah Torre, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the bill is modeled off of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The federal law “prohibits substantial burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive way possible,” said Torre. “Protections for religious freedom, like the one passed in Indiana, provide a commonsense way to balance the fundamental right to religious liberty with compelling government interests.”

Torre said that it’s important to note that the law “doesn’t allow individuals to do whatever they wish in the name of religion:”

“The law is simply a commonsense way of balancing government interests with the fundamental freedom of individuals to live out their faith. There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression—to ensure public safety, for instance. But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Such legislation at the state and federal level merely protects First Amendment rights, according to Torre.

“A robust conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of his or her conscience—whether at home, in worship, or at work,” said Torre.

Torre added that 19 other states have similar laws.

And if that were not enough, here is an Indianapolis Star editorial from law professor at Indiana University School of Law – who supports same-sex marriage – who is in favor of Indiana passing the bill.

He writes:

I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

[…]The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

[…]But granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld. And this brings us to the issue of same-sex marriage.

Under the Indiana RFRA, those who provide creative services for weddings, such as photographers, florists or bakers, could claim that religious freedom protects them from local nondiscrimination laws. Like other religious objectors, they would have their day in court, as they should, permitting them to argue that the government is improperly requiring them to violate their religion by participating (in their view) in a celebration that their religion does not allow.

But courts generally have ruled that the government has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination and that this interest precludes the recognition of religious exceptions. Even in the narrow setting of wedding-service providers, claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in various states, including states that have adopted the RFRA test. A court could rule otherwise, protecting religious freedom in this distinctive context. But to date, none has.

In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination. 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.

What the secular leftists in the media are saying is that the law gives religious people the right to reject any customer for any reason. Big businesses, which are overwhelmingly leftist, are also reacting the same way. The truth – as we saw above – is nothing like what the secular leftists are saying. The law is simply an echo of a federal law that already exists and was signed by Bill Clinton. Well done, Indiana. Well done, Republican legislators. Well done, Governor Mike Pence.

5 thoughts on “How to respond to complaints about Indiana’s new religious freedom law”

  1. “The law is simply an echo of a federal law that already exists and was signed by Bill Clinton.”

    The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting …

    It’s proven time over that Regressive-Progressives hate the bill of rights. It seems more about control rather than fighting “intolerance”. The notion that they’re afraid businesses can deny any patron for any reason is absurd, because anybody who undestands even the simplest practices of business knows this would be bad for business, or marketing, ergo profit.

    Also, I hate these buzzwords the political world uses. “Commonsense” laws… Pfff… Sound more like a used car salesman please.


  2. Professor Conkle’s explanation was excellent. Very glad you posted that and that I read that. Thanks, WK.

    However, given what the professor says about the RFRA-based laws in other states, it doesn’t sound like to date they have been successfully used to protect business owners. That makes it sound like Indiana’s law would likely not be an effective defense of say a wedding cake business owner that is trying to avoid providing a cake for a gay couples wedding. The owner could still be taken to court for discrimination and it sounds like the owner would likely still lose.

    If that truly is the case, I fail to see why Indiana’s lawmakers would use the political and cultural capital necessary to pass the law and weather the now-obligatory firestorm, when it doesn’t seem to protect business owners in the way the bill’s opponents believe it’s intended. Perhaps there are some second-level politics going on here — i.e, lawmakers pandering to their own base with legislation that sounds significant, but is actually quite toothless. Outside of that, this law doesn’t seem to be all that I thought it was cracked up to be.


  3. texillion’s comment expresses the same concern that leaped to my mind when I read your excerpts. It was the first time I’ve read anything related directly to what it says. Immediately it seems to have no effect on the merchant’s desire not to participate in the celebration sexual immorality by the sale or rental of his products or abilities for the purpose. It more than suggests that the refusal will still end up in court with, as tex suggests, the likelihood of the merchant losing still very high. Too bad. I was hoping for better.

    I must say, while I don’t agree with discrimination against persons (as opposed to discriminating against that person’s behaviors–or intentions to engage in bad behaviors), I don’t at all agree that the government has any business infringing upon a merchant’s ability to do so. I would much rather let the market place, that is the consuming public itself, dictate moral behaviors by virtue of whether or not they support the enterprise of such a merchant. Some won’t care if the racist’s place makes the best pizza. Others will buy their sneakers elsewhere. THAT is as it should be. If enough people take their business elsewhere, the bigoted merchant will be forced to decide whether to go broke or to lighten up.

    In the meantime, I will know who the jerks are and can decide if what they have is something I want or need badly enough to overlook his bigotry if the bigot is the only source around for it, or be really principled and do without until a less bigoted source can be found. THAT is as it should be.

    Title II of the Civil Rights Act is government abuse of power as it infringes upon the liberties of bigots, who unfortunately, are within their rights to be jerks, so long as no one dies or is seriously injured or incapacitated as a result. THAT is as it should be.

    And what is the real harm done? Is it any worse than if an unprincipled (take that any way you want) merchant is out of stock, or closed or out of business? What then? Just as if being denied, the consumer must go elsewhere for what he wants.

    What’s more, it is a double standard. The consumer cannot be forced to patronize a business owned by a homosexual, or a person of a different race or religion or gender. Why not? Are they not negatively impacting those people, too, by refusing to increase their bottom line because of who they are? Commerce is a two-way street. Two parties come together to trade what they have for what they want. It’s no more complicated than that. If one side is forced to do business with everyone, so should the other side. Better yet, neither side should be so forced except by the mood of the market.

    I’m done now.


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