On March 26, 2015, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed SB101. Known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), its supporters argued that it was meant to protect religious freedom. However, it is part of nationwide push by conservative state legislators to legalize religious based discrimination — part of an effort to curb the rights of women, LGBTQI individuals, and others.
Indiana’s RFRA gives business owners the right to refuse service to any individual based on any vague set of religious principles:
“exercise of religion” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief
Consequently, using religious justifications as a mask for bigotry, a rental property owner could refuse to rent to a married couple because of their sexual orientation.
Indiana’s RFRA states that governments cannot “substantially burden” an individual’s exercise of free religion. When applied, this means that a police officer could refuse to serve at an event due to religious objections — an instance of which happened in Oklahoma in 2011.
Moreover Section 2 of Indiana’s RFRA takes aim at local anti-discrimination legislation, making any city’s anti-discrimination legislation null and void if an individual claims religious exception:
A governmental entity, statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom or usage may not be construed to be exempt from the application of this chapter unless a state statute expressly exempts the statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom, or usage from the application of this chapter by citation to this chapter.
In a state university system, one wonders what the effects might be. Could a student refuse to take an examination if the topic contradicted his or her religious principles? Could a professor refuse to teach a student whose opinions offended his or her religious beliefs?
The vague wording of Indiana’s RFRA is troubling and will likely generate expensive and unnecessary lawsuits which test the limits of the legislation. It has already resulted in a call for boycotts of Indiana businesses and the withdrawal of investment.
Until this legislation is overturned, it will likely encourage discriminatory practices, fueled by the moral panic of fundamentalists, the reactionary sentiments of the far right wing, and the prejudice of bigots.
None of this is news. None of this was news when the Indiana General Assembly voted on the bill or when the governor signed it. Consequently, they are responsible for both its intended and its unintended consequences.
Voters should keep this in mind the next time they head to the polls. Below is a map of the votes by the Indiana House. Yellow indicates those who voted for Indiana’s RFRA; blue indicates those who voted against it. Representatives who were absent are identified by the districts in white.
|Kathy Krieg Richardson||Republican||29|
|B. Patrick Bauer||Democrat||6|
|Terri Jo Austin||Democrat||36|