Two Essays on Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” Law
by McKenna Ritter and Cartier Pitts
Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” Law
by McKenna Ritter
Indiana’s Governor, Republican Mike Pence, was working to “clarify” the religious freedom law passed in the state. Many assumed that the Indiana law is similar to religious laws in twenty other states and legislation developing in twelve others. These laws, however, were designed to address religious or cultural customs that conflicted with the law like Native American rituals with feathers of endangered birds, hoasca used by a Brazilian faith yet considered a drug, and Kosher meals in prison. Indiana’s law went far beyond its predecessors; when deciphered, it translated to the ability for businesses to deny service to those of sexual orientations that defy the heteronomative societal construct, specifically gay or lesbian couples. Arkansas was moving toward creating its own legislature, with similar backlash before it even started; Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, however, indicated that he recommended the recall or amendment of the bill on his desk.
The Republicans attempting to enforce this legislation may have showed up too late to this battle of the rights and liberties of the LGBTQ community. In The Associated Press, Emily Swanson noted that, “In the late 1980s, support for gay marriage was essentially unheard-of in America,” yet now it’s “favored by [a] clear majority.”
When questioning how such “religious freedom” laws could develop in the backdrop of this more accepting era, Siegel and NeJaime bring up “a several-decades-long objection to laws that depart from traditional sexual morality,” which in the past was focused on contraception and abortion. Developing laws use the basis of these past successes on their crusade against another “evil”: homosexuality. The danger of these efforts concentrate in the fact that they “run beyond the wedding industry to implicate a much broader set of goods and services, including healthcare and employment benefits.”
This changing scope of social issues is mutated when entangled with businesses. Big businesses, such as Apple, Yelp, Angie’s List, and Walmart, have been quick to oppose the new legislature of both states. Smaller businesses seem to err on the side of “fundamentalism and religious conservatism.” An Indiana pizzeria and Colorado bakery are both under the spotlight for their refusal to cater same-sex weddings. Not only is it counterproductive for businesses to refuse service to anyone, it becomes illegal and discriminatory when it is based on the societal “categories of people,” such as race, age, or gender. Charles M. Blow suggests, as a business in the United States, “regardless of your ‘deeply held religious beliefs,’ you have entered a nondiscriminatory zone,’ in which “each customer is treated equally.” The Indiana law intermingled social issues of religion and sexual orientation with economics, in order to avoid dealing head on with these tricky conversations.
You don’t have to agree with how others live their lives, but don’t use religion as an excuse to discriminate.
Since the release of the law, Indiana has edited its law to avoid refusal of service to homosexuals. Yet, according to Laura E. Durso of the Center for American Progress’s LGBT research and communication project, “it is still legal to deny housing, employment, and services to LGBT Americans based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity in roughly 30 states – Indiana included.”
If my conservative 84-year-old grandmother can realize that sexual orientation is a way someone is born, then so can you.
The Crumbling Cake
by Cartier Pitts
Tomorrow at eleven o’clock in the morning, a newly engaged man named Adam has a appointment at the most venerated bakery in Indianapolis, Classic Cakes, with his betrothed and the baker of their wedding cake, Mr. Smith. When the happy couple shows up to their consultation, Mr. Smith is shocked to see two men walking hand in hand. Over the phone, Adam only referred to his fiance Steve as his fiance, but he never specifically said “boyfriend”. This surprise was not welcomed with open arms, as Mr. Smith is a devout Christian that believes in every verse of law in the Bible as it is written. This includes a verse that is widely thrown around out of context in schoolhouses and dinner tables alike: “Those who practice homosexuality, none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Mr. Smith had no tolerance for any type of same sex relationships, and so as soon James and Tom were settled in their seats, he promptly dismissed them from his business. Now in most situations, despite the baker’s personal beliefs, the cake consultation would have continued. However, since Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was recently enacted, Mr. Smith’s actions are now legal and sound.
The new law has garnered a lot of attention from citizens all over America, most of it negative attention. Many supporters of the new law, mainly Republicans, have spoken out against the dissent in attempts to try to put the law back into the good light that Governor Mike Pence believed he signed it in. For example, the Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker stated that the law “the right for Americans to exercise their religion and act on their conscience.” By voicing this belief, Gov. Walker has represented the views of many of the supporters by urging the nation to see the law as a platform for protection rather than attack. Another argument advocates use when defending the law is that it was originally signed by a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and is no different from the 1993 statute.
Although, I can respect where Governors Pence and Walker are coming from, I cannot bring myself to stand with their beliefs. My reasons are not passionate falsehoods that I pulled from the clouds of anger filling my head. Rather, it comes from the ways Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) compare with Indiana’s RFRA. The original law arose from the case of a Native American man that was fired from his job after using peyote, a substance which was necessary in a religious ritual. The Federal RFRA was made to protect the religious minorities from the federal government, and was an extension of the old American principle of religious freedom. Though there are similarities in the two laws, the major point of concern only exists in the Indiana RFRA: the definition of a person. A person in the newer law can be an individual or religious minority, as well as a company, a corporation or church. The less restricted wording can be easily used to justify discrimination on a trait of a person. The Indiana law also clearly states that it does not really matter if the government is involved in the actions preceding the lawsuit, to whereas the Federal laws says that a person can sue the government for their complaint.
Because of these inconsistencies and my personal moral beliefs, my view on this topic falls really more in line with Tim Cook’s. Mr. Cook is the chief executive of Apple, who also wrote an article to the Washington Post, publicizing his strong distaste for the laws. In his opinoin article, Mr. Cook wrote, “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.” In making this statement, the executive shows that he wants citizens to understand that by making laws regulating discrimination, we will invite blatant hatred back into our lives. I agree with Mr. Cook that the regulation of Indiana’s RFRA will be a catalyst for more laws that will allow institutionalized discrimination, such as the ones that existed during the Jim Crow era, and will in effect cause people to act in the bigoted manner they used to. Yes, Mr. Cook is not in favor of the Indiana RFRA (as do I), but that does not mean he is against religious freedom (as I am, too). He was born, raised and baptized in a Baptist church. When he spoke on his religion, Mr. Cook stated that “ I was never taught, nor do I believe, that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate.” Adding to his argument, I can confidently say from my experience as a person raised and baptized in a Baptist church that our religion should not be used as a weapon for evil. Instead, I learned from it that despite our differences, everyone should be loved and treated equally as if we are brothers and sisters ( in the Baptist community, you are called that).
Ultimately, the debate over the RFRA will not be a catalyst for change alone in the greater picture. It is only a crumb. If the citizens of America are at the base of a cake that represents our nation, we cannot expect to be able to mistreat a great part of the population and expect the state of the cake to be perfectly fine. There needs to be a strong base in order for the cake to stand tall. If you do not think there is anything wrong with the country, ask the gay couple that cannot get two men on the top their wedding cake.