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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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