Indiana is a state situated in the mid-western United States and is well-known across the rest of the United States and much of the world for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, one of the most prestigious motor sports races in the world. This week, however, Indiana finds itself in the spotlight because of the passage of SB 101 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Governor Mike Pence signed the bill into law on March 26, 2015, and the law went into effect on July 1, 2015. The legislation is necessary, as supporters of the bill such as Eric Miller of Advance America asserted because, “it is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana […] to help protect churches, Christian businesses, and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!” (Victory at the State House) Those in opposition to the legislation such as Democratic Party Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane fear the legislation allows for discrimination on religious grounds. As Senator Lanane stated, it is “extremely disappointing that Governor Pence endorses this out-of-touch, discriminatory legislation. Not only is this law unnecessary, it, unfortunately, has already portrayed our state as intolerant, unfriendly, and backwards; things which I believe most Hoosiers reject.” (as cited in the Indy Star) Governor Pence disagrees, stating “this bill is not about discrimination and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.” (as cited in the Indy Star) Is religious freedom threatened in Indiana and does this legislation intended to safeguard religious freedom allow for legal discrimination on religious grounds? These questions merit further discussion.
About the degree of religious affiliation and practice in Indiana, data generated by Pew Research show the majority of the population is Christian with 34% identifying as Evangelical Protestant, 22% as Mainline Protestant and 18% identifying as Catholic. People practicing non-Christian religions, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, for example, barely register in the data and people who report they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition make up 16% of the population. (Pew Research) If these data are an indication, spiritual life is flourishing in Indiana. This should come as no surprise as religious freedom is guaranteed in the entire United States of America in the Bill of Rights and further bolstered by the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) in a near-unanimous vote in Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. In fact, the text of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is primarily drawn from that of the RFRA. SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as it stands currently states:
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. (Indiana General Assembly)
Also, with the passage of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana is the latest of several states that enacted similar legislation as shown in the following map.
By the evidence presented thus far, one can conclude that SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply shores up existing legislation that protects religious freedom in Indiana. What of the concerns articulated by Senator Lanane that the bill is out-of-touch and discriminatory and who is threatened with discrimination on religious grounds? To address these concerns, it is worth looking to the religious constituency that supported the passage of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and understand what motivated their support. Together with Eric Miller of Advance America, the American Family Association of Indiana and the Indiana Family Institute were the primary religious rights groups supporting passage of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. If you take the time to view the websites of each of these organizations, you will see there is no doubt they are staunchly opposed to homosexuality and the extension of full civil rights, marriage rights in particular, to gay people across the United States and in Indiana. The Indiana Family Institute (IFI) sums up the standpoint of these three organizations in posting: “A government that promotes liberty and affirms individual responsibility should pass legislation that builds up families and values traditional marriage. Indiana Family Institute (IFI) works with elected officials at all levels of government in Indiana to make our state the best place to raise a family.” (Indiana Family Institute)
Moreover, state law in Indiana currently does not include sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination as the following section of the Indiana Civil Rights Law shows:
(b) The practice of denying these rights to properly qualified persons by reason of the race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry of such person is contrary to the principles of freedom and equality of opportunity and is a burden to the objectives of the public policy of this state and shall be considered as discriminatory practices. The promotion of equal opportunity without regard to race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry through reasonable methods is the purpose of this chapter. (Indiana Code 22-9-1-1)
Given this reality and the motivations of the religious constituency behind the passage of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the assurance offered by Governor Pence that it is not about discrimination (discrimination against gay people in particular), opponents of the legislation, such as Senator Tim Lanane and the Republican Mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, remain unconvinced. In his condemnation of the legislation, Mayor Ballard stressed: “Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents. We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here.” (as cited in the Indy Star) This sentiment is echoed by Bill Oesterle, CEO of Angie’s List, a company based in Indianapolis, who has suspended a 40 million dollar expansion of the company and put 1,000 new jobs on hold in response to the passage of the legislation. In a statement, Oesterle said, “Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.” (as cited in the Indy Star)
To be fair to Governor Mike Pence and the citizens of Indiana, I think he had the best of intentions in signing SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Religious freedom is a fundamental right in U.S. society guaranteed in law. While the text of SB 106 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not explicitly discriminatory, the fact remains, however, that the motivations of those religious constituencies who most strongly supported the passage of the legislation clearly are based in the desire to have legal grounds on which to discriminate against gay people. That there is a groundswell of opposition to this, as is demonstrated by the actions of Senator Tim Lanane, Mayor Greg Ballard and Bill Oesterle show that Indiana is a state where people are free to practice any religion they choose, and discrimination against gay people on religious grounds is not tolerable.
Posted by Geoffrey