Monday, March 30, 2015

Why The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is Suspect


On Thursday March 26, 2015, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a law that further enables discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the state. The so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” or RFRA, allegedly protects citizens' religious liberties by allowing  private citizens and organizations to deny services to others if they claim that their religious views are “substantially burdened.”

So let's say a business' religious endorsements doesn't reconize same sex marriage. The law allows that business to refuse doing business with same sex couples without legal retribution. The law has wider consequences too. If an individual or business' religious beleifs doesn't endorse abortion, the law relieves them of doing business with people and businesses involved in abortions. Excercised in its current context the law can very well pit  indivdual religious entities against each other.

The law is not popular with a broad percentage of the state's population and businesses. The concern is valid if for no other reason the law is unnecessary.

Religious freedom is an American value and a basic right for all citizens. That's why it is already protected by the Constitution. The Indiana RFRA is unnecessary and appears to only benefit  corporations and other private entities aiming to justify discrimination against individuals that might otherwise be protected under law.

Pence has claimed that President Obama, as an Illinois state Senator, voted for “the very same language.” At first glance they may appear similar, however there is a significant distinction that extends the ramifications of the Indiana law beyond many others.

While other RFRAs apply to disputes between a person or entity and a government, Indiana’s includes a clause that applies to disputes between private citizens or entities. What’s more, while the federal, and many state RFRAs, provide protection only if a law in question substantially burdens a person’s religious exercise, the Indiana RFRA only requires that the complainant believe their religious freedom may “likely” be violated to invoke the law’s protection.

In short, the Indiana law's broad latitude presents the opportunity for exploitation . The law and similar ones like it  should be repealed. We should also watch for  similar ones being drafted aimed at race and other personal liberties could make their way into legistration.

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