Indiana is under fire for its “new” copy of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but not from everyone.
People who would defend the natural right to practice one’s religion freely, as codified in the Bill of Rights, are glad the law pledges that the state of Indiana won’t tamper with those rights unless it sees some compelling interest in doing so.
The law is Indiana’s restatement of a federal law passed by a Democratic Congress during the Clinton administration, with one refinement: It answers, for Indiana, a question that federal courts have not yet resolved about the federal RFRA — whether it can be used as a defense in civil cases brought by private parties, not just in disputes involving government violations of religious freedom.
What the courts have decided about the federal RFRA is that it does not cover the actions of state governments, which is why many states have passed their own.
In today’s climate, where some vendors of wedding services have been the targets of lawsuits demanding that they violate the dictates of religion and conscience, Indiana’s law makes the choice that protects the liberty of all by noting that its law can be used as a defense in a private suit.
So mom-and-pop businesses in Indiana can take some comfort that they face less risk of a lawsuit by some deep-pocketed pressure group if they choose to live their faith. The chilling effect is on malicious lawsuits, which is good, rather than on the free exercise of religion.
Which brings us — and what could be more fitting on Good Friday? — to the problem of sin.
There are people in this world who believe that homosexual conduct is a sin — an offense against God’s design of the body and the purposes he ordained for sex.
You are free to doubt their theological premise. You are free to argue with them about it. You are free to criticize or even lampoon them. You are free to offer alternatives and attempt to persuade the public to see things your way rather than theirs.
You are not, however, free to compel them to act in ways that violate their consciences. The Indiana law spells that out. Like the federal RFRA, it puts statutory meat on the First Amendment bones.
Meanwhile, there are people in this world who believe that any person or institution that declines to celebrate homosexual conduct is a sinner — not against God, necessarily, but against the righteous political agenda. They see in Indiana’s law permission for businesses to discriminate against homosexuals. And, yes, that could happen.
But it’s unlikely to happen, and if it happened the free market would be quick and eager to remedy it.
What stigma remains attached to the practice of homosexuality is nothing like it used to be. None of it is government-sponsored, not even in newly RFRA-covered states, so put away the Jim Crow references. It would be hard to think of a less apt historical analogy.
Businesses are, in general, happy to serve gay people with money to spend. No one’s going to starve, go unsheltered or get kicked off the roller coaster based on sexual orientation alone.
Certain kinds of conduct might compel a business owner to declare a gay person unwelcome, but the same can be said of any patron of any sexual orientation who behaves in ways that make business harder to do. It’s the behavior that’s the problem; the root cause doesn’t matter.
In the vast majority of cases, a business owner or employee isn’t going to know or care that a customer is gay. But let’s say that information somehow comes to light and a business decision has to be made.
There is a huge difference between freely choosing to serve a customer based on one’s own good will and being forced to serve unwillingly, based on the morally empty whim of the government or in the face of a pressure group’s morally inflammatory demand that a business owner betray his conscience.
Reverse the roles: Should a gay baker be forced to make the cake for the big anniversary celebration over at the Westboro Baptist Church? (They’re the “God hates fags” people, in case you’ve forgotten.)
Of course not. The baker’s conscience would be deeply and justly offended if he were made to participate in a celebration of what that church teaches.
Should a devout Muslim caterer have to make the tabouli for a gay wedding? (Heads all over the left are exploding as they envision such a collision of Groups That Must Never Be Offended.)
Should a Jewish videographer have to spend all night immortalizing events at the annual KKK ball?
No. All have a right not to cooperate with what they consider evil. All the Indiana law says is that the state government, absent some compelling interest, won’t try to make them.
Some of the screaming and hollering about Indiana’s law is bound up in ignorance of what little it actually does. A lot of it, though, is bound up in the LGBTetc. lobby’s knowledge that many of its gains come through intimidation — a tactic that laws like Indiana’s renders less effective.
Indiana’s new law protects the moral sensibilities of people who are swimming against the prevailing social and political currents — something for which we Americans are renowned.
Good job, Indiana. Don’t change a thing.Indiana’s RFRA law protects liberty across a vast array of moral beliefs_ Kevin O’Brien _ cleveland