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Thoughts on the RFRA

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Something with which I’m sure many of you can sympathize is the utter disconnect that one feels from the outside world while being a college student. I am often so immersed in my courses that I have a complete lack of awareness of the entirety of national and world events, leaving me with only Twitter as a barometer for inflammatory incidents. As I’m sure many of you have become aware, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is this week at the top of the list of things that are prompting rants and blow-ups on Twitter and other social media. Just today, in fact, I read a headline that read, “Mike Pence Legalizes LGBT Discrimination.” I then continued to scroll to see more and more statuses saying, “Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” and “I thought this was supposed to be land of the free,” and, my personal favorite, “I’m moving out of Indiana.” While all of these opinions are valid with regard to that particular headline, as it relates to painful and enraging imagery from the events of civil rights issues that have polluted our history and poisoned the integrity of the culture of our great nation, I cannot help but see the flaw of this particular uproar. Many are petitioning to kill the bill and recall Mike Pence, but have they even read the bill? Do they even know what it’s about? I’ve taken the liberty of giving it to you. The bill states the following, as shown on the Indiana General Assembly 2015 Session website:

“Religious freedom restoration act. Provides that 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. Provides that a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a state or local government action may assert the burden as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding. Allows a person who asserts a burden as a claim or defense to obtain appropriate relief, including: (1) injunctive relief; (2) declaratory relief; (3) compensatory damages; and (4) recovery of court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

Basically, it just states that if you feel that your right to act in a manner congruent with your religious beliefs is being threatened or extinguished, you have the ability to not participate in that interaction. As you can see, there is no mention of LGBT populations or values related to a particular religion. The idea behind the bill is to protect a person’s right to act in a way that is in keeping with their personal religious views in their churches, homes and workplaces. For instance, let’s say you’re an anesthesiologist. You’re being asked to anesthetize a girl for an abortion, but you have deep personal convictions about abortion and simply don’t believe it’s right. This bill gives you the right to abstain from participation in what you believe is morally wrong according to your religion. Let’s say you belong to a Jewish family that owns a sign making company. If you were sent in an order that asked you to print a sign with an anti-Semitic message, this bill would protect you from having to do so. So while talk of LGBT discrimination may bring concerns, for instance, that a same-sex couple would be ejected from a restaurant simply because they are gay, that is surely not the content or intent of the bill. The place of the law is to protect the rights of the individual, not impose the particular opinions of any group on the individual, and I think this law does just that. If the girl wants to be anesthetized for her procedure, she can still have that done by another anesthesiologist. If the anti-Semetic customer wants his sign printed, he can go to any other sign maker to get that done. It would be out of line for him to pick on the sign maker for not participating in his prejudice and legally harass him for lack of accommodation, would it not?

For those of you who still have concerns that this bill puts LGBT individuals in a negative position, I have a one-word solution: capitalism. If a company or business has a policy that you disagree with, take your business elsewhere. Better yet, organize a boycott. America is the land of the free. People have the freedom to express themselves how they want, hence why we have narrow-minded individuals and why we have prejudiced jerks. If we who combat those close-minded mentalities are to truly give ourselves credit for being accepting and tolerant, we have to engage in acceptance and tolerance even when it’s uncomfortable for us. Our tolerance must include those that we disagree with (after all, isn’t that the fundamental nature of tolerance, enduring that which you don’t necessarily personally subscribe to?). While the law can’t necessarily legislate to the degree of the moral convictions that you feel, it is absolutely within your power to contribute to a positive change in culture where we, the people, stand up for one another in the face of injustice. It is the responsibility of the people to promote the values with which we expect one another to respect one another. So be vocal and be bold, but make sure you’re directing that audacity towards the source of the problem, which is the organizations that participate in discrimination, not the bill that protects someone’s right to believe and act as they desire. When you accidentally take aim at the wrong issue, you become the oppressor who shoots down freedoms instead of the defender who promotes them. And finally, when you allow yourself to be swept up by extremely biased second- and thirdhand information, like intentionally inflammatory headlines, you undermine your own deliberateness and credibility, so be cautious and selective with what you choose to fuel your passion.

Gabrielle Weldy

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Tom

    This law allows me to discriminate against you if you are Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, or any other religion I don’t like. It allows me to discriminate against you if you are gay, you cohabitate, you eat pork, you drink alcohol or use tobacco, if any of those things offend my religious beliefs. This is a bad law.

    • NDaniels

      Our Constitution serves to protect and secure our inherent Right to Religious Liberty, it does not serve to proclaim the equality of consensual sexual acts and sexual relationships. The marital act is life affirming and life sustaining.
      Marriage exists for the sake of the husband, the sake of the wife, and the sake of the new family that is created when a man and woman are joined together as husband and wife.
      It is not unjust discrimination to desire that every son or daughter, from the moment of conception, is treated with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public.

  • what no really

    As for your last paragraph, would you say the same thing about civil rights statutes that forbid discrimination on the basis of race, religion, veteran status, etc.? Hey if that lunch counter doesn’t want to serve black people, just take your business elsewhere and the problem is solved? I assume not. Why apply different logic here?

    Additionally, it wouldn’t have taken much deeper digging to uncover your error in assuming that because lgbt people aren’t named in the bill that it isn’t about exactly that. First, do you honestly believe it is a coincidence that this was drafted immediately following the overturning of Indiana’s ban on gay marriage? Second, please read this: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/31/3640801/conservatives-indiana-discrimination/

    If you think private businesses should legally be able to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation (as you apparently do), then voice that opinion. But the refusal of Mike Pence to answer that question is deeply insulting. And the attempt to frame this bill as an innocuous copy of a 1993 federal law, or of a copy of other state RFRAs in states that include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in their human rights laws (Indiana does not) is dishonest. And just kind of gross.

    This was written, passed, and signed as an anti-gay bill. The only reason no one wants to admit that now is because of the national backlash.

  • James

    So I understand how and why the bill effects business owners, such as the Jewish sign-maker, but I’m still confused about another aspect of the bill. Assuming the anesthesiologist is employed under someone else, does his employer still have the right to fire him for refusing to aid an abortion? Or is the employee protected in this situation. (I feel like it doesn’t make much sense to disallow the employer from firing the anesthesiologist in this situation.)

    In other words: I understand business owners now have their religious freedom protected, but under this law does a business owner have to respect the religious freedom of his employees as well?

  • I think the University should warn Mr. Pence that if doesn’t repeal the “religious freedom law” it will move to another state.

  • grm072

    You write that the idea and intent behind the bill does not pertain to the LGBT community. I am afraid that the statements made by the proponents of the bill directly prove your assertion wrong. There are a few main groups who are behind this RFRA legislation both in Indiana and other states, and these were the same people who stood behind Gov. Pence in the private ceremony as he signed it into law. Here is just a small sampling of what these groups have said and written about the bill:

    Eric Miller of Advance America wrote that, ‘It will protect those who oppose gay marriage.’ (And says) ‘a florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment.’

    Micah Clark, who serves as executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana and who stood right behind Pence as he signed the bill, speaking Monday to Tim Wildmon, head of the national American Family Association, Clark explained that conservatives should oppose any effort to clarify that the law does not legalize discrimination. ‘That could totally destroy this bill,’ he explained. Clark has been publicly advocating for the bill as a means for allowing anti-LGBT discrimination since December, long before the legislation was even drafted

    On the website of Advance America, a major group behind the bill: “SB 101 will help protect individuals, Christian businesses and churches from those supporting homosexual marriages and those supporting government recognition and approval of gender identity (male cross-dressers). Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!”

    Regarding the very similar bill in Georgia: During debate on the bill, Rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican who supports gay rights, introduced an amendment explicitly providing that the Georgia bill could not be used to overcome anti-discrimination provisions at the state and local level. The amendment was staunchly opposed by the bill’s sponsor, who complained that protecting victims of discrimination would ‘completely undercut the purpose of the bill.’

    As you can see, the idea and the intent of the RFRA, according to those actually behind the legislation, is clearly about allowing discrimination against the LGBT community.

    Your solution to “take your business elsewhere” may be an option for some, but in reality it is not an option for all, and that is why legislation like this must be opposed. There are many small towns in Indiana, and many of them may not offer multiple florists, bakers, restaurants, or photographers. A resident of certain areas simply may not have other options. Not to mention that no one should be discriminated against or treated as a second class citizen when they try to do business at any place opened to the public. While all would hope this simply doesn’t occur, it does, and that is why anti-discrimination laws are necessary. And not only is it still legal in some areas of Indiana to deny service based on sexual orientation, the RFRA law supports and potentially expands on that legal ability to deny service.

    In a frighteningly similar debate from the past, your “take your business elsewhere” solution was exactly what African Americans encountered in the Segregation era South. You may be familiar with the stories about the experiences of African American families, or tour buses of musicians, making a trip across a southern state, who were not served in the only available restaurant, and were not allowed to stay in the only available hotel. I hope you can see the direct analogy without me having to further explain that Capitalism does not solve these types of issues.

  • JFloops

    It’s not far-fetched to consider this a significant part of the Civil Rights struggle of our era. The nice thing about this article is that you will be able to show your kids which side of history you were on. Let’s revisit in 15 years and see how that goes!

  • dkoos

    In addition to supporting discrimination against gays and lesbians, whether intentionally or through falling for the most basic of Right Wing obfuscation, it would also appear that Gabrielle Weldy won’t be interviewing with Apple, Accenture, Alcoa, Yelp, Wal-Mart, EMC, Cloudera, Oracle, EMC Isilon, Anthem, Cummins, Dow, Eli Lilly, Emmis, Roche, Delta Faucets, Angie’s List, Subaru, Gap, Levis, NCAA, NBA, MLB, and a growing number of other major companies that won’t tolerate discrimination.

  • JFloops

    This law is not needed by a Jewish sign-maker with an order for an anti-Semitic sign. A Jewish sign maker, or any sign maker for that matter, can refuse to make an anti-Semitic sign not because of religious reasons, but because that is hate speech.

    If you wish to use that analogy to apply to the “religious freedom” granted by the RFRA, you will need to correct it to say:

    “The RFRA now allows a Jewish sign-maker who normally makes anti-Semitic signs to refuse to provide an anti-Semitic sign to a Christian.”

  • NDaniels

    Rather then revisit RFRA why not revisit the definition of person? A human person can only conceive a human person, and persons are sons and daughters, not objects of sexual desire/orientation. After all, isn’t that what the culture war is about, the desire to redefine the essence of the human person created in The Image and Likeness of God?

  • meganstewart

    Indiana’s Memory Pizza raises over $840,000 after celebrating that it will make use of the RFRA to refuse their services to gays and lesbians. Is that how you envisioned capitalism solving this issue?

    It seems that the Invisible Hand of Capitalism is a bit more imperfect than you envision, especially when walking hand and hand with the Judgmental Hand of Bigotry.