Note from CM: We didn’t have enough strong opinions expressed yesterday(!), so I thought I’d start a discussion on something that’s happening here in the heart of the great Midwest. I don’t normally devote much space to political debates, but since this one is specifically “Christian” in origin and intent, why not? No, I’m not spoiling for a fight. Just anticipating that one might break out. Be careful, please.
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The legislature in state in which I live, Indiana, is sending a “Religious Freedom Bill” to the governor’s desk for signature. Yesterday the Senate passed the bill 40-10, following the House’s action on Monday by which it approved the measure 63-31. The governor says he’ll sign it.
You can read the entire bill HERE. This is the official summary:
Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.
The legislation was fashioned after a federal law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, signed by President Clinton. Passing such laws in various states around the country is now a focus of many conservative groups in response to recent rulings that have legalized same-sex marriage.
Our governor says the bill “is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.”
One of the bill’s authors stated his underlying concern: “You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith.”
A state representative said, “It’s important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those.”
USA Today cites another who supported the bill: “Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, spoke about an anesthesiologist who didn’t want to anesthetize a woman in preparation for an abortion. Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.”
Another supporter called it a “good, tested, protective shield for all faiths.”
However, it is clear that this bill was passed in a specific cultural context and was designed to allow businesses such as bakeries, florists, photographers and caterers who don’t want to provide services for gay couples to act in ways they deem compatible with their religious faith and without government intrusion.
One representative charged, “”It basically says to a group of people you’re second rate, you don’t matter, and if you walk into my store, I don’t have to serve you.”
A similar bill in Arizona was vetoed by then-Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who gave this reasoning in her press conference:
Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.
To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.
One of the interesting implications for politics with a bill like this is that it threatens to divide social conservatives and economic conservatives, and this could become an even more serious problem than it is now for the Republicans.
Business interests in Indiana certainly don’t like the law. The Chamber of Commerce, as well as several major Indiana corporations, spoke out against the bill, warning that it could seriously affect the state’s business climate. They are concerned about being able to attract the best employees to a state which appears not to welcome all. As the Chamber remarked, “this legislation threatens to undo years of progress we have made in positioning Indianapolis as a welcoming community.” They also expressed concern about the potential costs of litigation.
Others have warned that the state’s sports and convention business could take a big hit. Already GenCon, who brought 56,000 visitors to their convention in Indy last year, has petitioned the governor to veto the bill, suggesting they might seek accommodations elsewhere if it becomes law. A local sports columnist quoted a leader in Indianapolis’s hospitality industry:
“We came out against the bill about two weeks ago, joined several other organizations who are fighting this bill,” said Chris Gahl of VisitIndy. “We feel like anything that could be viewed as making Indy inhospitable or unwelcoming could impact our ability to book future business. We’ve been fielding calls all day from potential visitors and convention people who are concerned about this. We’re not in the business of being a political organization, but anything that impacts our ability to draw conventions and events to our city is an issue for us. We want to be as hospitable a place as possible for all our visitors.”
In response to this legislation, so far more than 500 businesses have signed up for the “Open for Service” campaign to communicate their position of non-discrimination.
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In a nutshell, here’s my reaction.
- Desperate times apparently call for desperate measures. This is a transparently desperate measure by those who feel they’re losing a “culture war.”
- The main originators, sponsors, and spokespersons for Indiana’s bill have spoken from a “Christian” perspective. I’m sorry, but I missed the “love your neighbor” part of the law, which I thought was the summary and central focus of God’s Law. I can’t think of anything much more Christ-like than humbling yourself and setting aside your personal objections to serve a neighbor with grace while keeping your opinions to yourself.
- The law is so vague and open to interpretation that one might posit a number of outrageous scenarios. Could a Protestant baker, for example, refuse to make a wedding cake for a Catholic wedding? Or could a photographer refuse to take pictures of an interracial couple?
- It is also entirely possible that, if signed, this law won’t amount to much at all. Perhaps what one Indiana legislator said is the real story: “This is a made-up issue. It is made up for the purpose of going in front of a few Indiana citizens and thumping your chest for social causes.”