Indiana and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – Why the big deal?

Posted: April 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Is the furor in Indiana just the latest tempest in a tea cup? Is it another instance of people over-reacting to sensible protections for religious freedom, a freedom that has eroded for the longest time?

If you were to listen to other governors around the country who support the law and Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, you might conclude that this is simply a matter of protecting freedom of religion, something already protected in the Second Amendment. All they want is reasonable protection. What could be sinister about that?

What they haven’t talked about is the real issue beneath the surface, one found in the difference between the legislation of Indiana and other states. In other states with similar legislation religious freedom has not been presented as absolute; it stands alongside other constitutional protections such as non-discrimination. Not so in Indiana. Non-discrimination language was conspicuously omitted. Then they hid behind the banner of religious freedom.

The backlash against that decision has been sudden and severe. Among many other organizations and corporations to boycott Indiana was the Disciples of Christ, who decided to move its 2017 General Assembly out of Indianapolis. I support that decision because it put pressure on decision-makers to reconsider the impact of their ideological decisions on, yes, business.

Religious freedom is a good thing. I am religious leader and serve a religious institution. I have a vested interest in keeping it so. But when religious freedom becomes a pass to discriminate against anyone I choose because of my religion we have crossed the line.

This do whatever you want because of your religion reasoning has been used to justify slavery, continue separate but equal social policies and systematically hide and conceal those who have abused children under religion’s banner. It is not acceptable.

As far as the supreme court goes, we have many examples of the high court making judgments on cases that include a dimensions of religious freedom. In the main, the court has provided for maximum freedom when the exercise of that freedom does not harm others or break other laws. Of course, religious freedom is not absolute. Other laws may supersede religious freedom.

The most extreme example is Waco and the Branch Davidians. They intoned “religious freedom” to provide protection for many of their practices. But when a universal law of the land is broken, a law such as one that protects minors, it trumps religious freedom every time.

Is religious freedom an absolute freedom? It is not. It is evaluated along side other freedoms and protections. People knew that when they first read the Indiana legislation. They were correct to object. And now that the legislature and governor are amending the law to make certain that discrimination is in no way tolerated on account of religious freedom we can only hope that, as the wheels of justice turn slowly, others will not try the same trick in the future.

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