Abstract: The recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was signed into law and will take effect on July 1st 2015 has sparked an uproar in Indiana and around the country. But why has this particular piece of legislation made the community stand against it when there are so many other acts similar to it? Nineteen states have so-called religious freedom laws. They are modeled after a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 (NBC News). Other federal statutes that have been passed are similar to the 1993 Act, but those who oppose this act say that Indian’s bill is different that all the others, and could allow for discrimination by the businesses in Indiana. I intend to look over this bill and find out just what the people think of this bill and how it is apparently different from the RFRA of 1993 as well as the other state sponsored bills that are around the country.
‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Across the States
20 states in dark yellow have “religious freedom” laws. Indiana’s law, written more expansively than other states, has caused a national uproar. Critics say it could be used by businesses to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.
12 states in light yellow introduced legislation this year. Despite opposition to Indiana’s law, Arkansas’s legislature passed a similar bill on Tuesday. Similar bills have stalled in Georgia and North Carolina.
The red states RFRA’s do not explicitly apply to disputes between private citizens. Indiana’s RFRA’s applies to private citizens which is one of the main differences from the 1993 RFRA and Texas’s law exempts civil rights.
The law is intended to be used to help those individuals who are suppressed by federal laws that prevented them from taking part in their religious beliefs or practices. “It does not declare that religious entities or individuals may violate safety regulations, civil-rights protections or anti-discrimination ordinances like South Bend’s,” Garnett explained. “The proposal merely provides that, if a law burdens a Hoosier’s sincerely held religious belief or religious exercise and if – and this is an important ‘if’! – granting an exemption would not undermine a compelling public interest, then an accommodation should be provided.” An example of this is allowing a Muslim to grow a closely trimmed beard as part of their religious practices.
Beyond the differences between the Indiana law and other states, many of the other states that have a RFRA also have a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Indiana does not have one. This has been yet another motif for critics. Using this as a way of saying the RFRA was a response to legalizing gay marriage in the state since it was passed before the RFRA. In most states RFRA’s were passed before gay marriage was legal so they were not thought of as being in response to gay marriage.
So Indiana could help themselves appease the critics by adding a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but would that stop people from having a discriminatory attitude? Probably not. In other states there are cases of people supporting their use of similar acts based on their religious beliefs about sexual orientation, and reference the Bible for supporting their claim.
This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so. Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost (Think Progress).
In conclusion Indian’s RFRA law is a necessary law that just needs an amendment or a complimentary piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. By doing this I believe that this would put speculative critics to rest about the bill being a response to Indiana legalizing gay marriage, and return peace to the state. This law should not be dismantled, but strengthened for the good of the citizens of Indiana.
Controversy Continues Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (2015, March 30). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2015/03/30/396405047/controversy-continues-over-indianas-religious-freedom-restoration-act
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Hemingway, M. (2015, April 1). 8 ways RFRA stopped discrimination: Column. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/31/americans-benefit-from-religious-freedom-act-column/70672108/
Horrigan, H. (2015, March 31). Missouri bill similar to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.abc17news.com/news/missouri-bill-similar-to-indianas-religious-freedom-restoration-act/32116312
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Payne, E. (2015, March 31). Indiana religious freedom restoration act: What you need to know – CNNPolitics.com. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/31/politics/indiana-backlash-how-we-got-here/
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Stopczynski, K. (2015, March 24). Locals react to Indiana’s Religious Freedom bill as it heads to governor’s desk. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/locals-react-to-indianas-religious-freedom-bill-as-it-heads-to-governors-desk/31990372
Todd, C. (2015, March 31). GOP presidential hopefuls line up to support ‘religious freedom’ law. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/gop-presidential-hopefuls-line-support-religious-freedom-law