Religious Freedom?

Last Monday, I spent the first part of my day at the Indiana State House. Hoosiers gathered both in support and in opposition to Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

SB 101 would allow businesses in Indiana to refuse service to certain customers based on religious beliefs. The specific language of the bill “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.” For example, a cake decorator may refuse to create a dessert for an LGBT couple wishing to get married. Others believe this may go as far as refusing healthcare to someone on the basis of religion.

I attended the protest with other members of my seminary to stand in opposition to this bill. The federal government recently forced the state to allow same sex marriages, so this bill seems to be an attempt to push back and find ways to devalue some of our fellow neighbors in Indiana.

Because I am a proponent of valuing those of all beliefs and backgrounds, I worry that this Bill would also allow for businesses to refuse service to others because they practice another religion, have no religion, or represent a myriad of other identities.

The President of my seminary, Dr. Matthew Bolton, told the Indy Star, “We have to stand as people of faith against any claim that anyone is second class.”

As a practicing Christian, what am I to do when my neighbor is made into a second-class citizen because of whom they love or whom they worship?

A fellow classmate and friend, Whittney Murphy, told me, “This reminds me of the Jim Crow and Jane Crow South in the 1960’s.” She noted that religion was also cited in defense of many of those laws. She worries that we are following in those footsteps. “Parts of my identity as black, woman, and gay could all suddenly be refused service,” she said. She explained how this bill also becomes a class issue as the state legislature has argued its citizens could bring unfair uses of this law to court. But how likely is it that those in the middle and working classes could afford such a legal battle?

In interfaith work, and for myself as a Christian, a core calling is to stand with those whose value is being challenged and in words, but even more so in actions, affirm their value as human beings. We are to let others know they are holy and sacred beings no matter their sexuality, gender, race, or belief. Is this not what is at the core of so many of our faiths?

May we use religion to affirm people’s worth, not to degrade it.

Update: Later that day the Bill passed committee, has passed the house, and was singed by Gov. Pence today.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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3 thoughts on “Religious Freedom?

  1. Thanks for the updates on this David. I’ve already seen several large organizations cancel all of their programs and events scheduled for Indiana in protest. I’m curious, who are the major groups pushing this bill, and is this bill similar to other state bills, or is this something homegrown from within Indiana political circles?

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes many organizations, religious groups, even the City of San Fransisco have pulled funding out of sending employees and participants to Indiana with other groups such as the NCAA saying they will consider not having future events here.

      It seems still a little unclear what groups were pushing for this law. American Family Association of Indiana, Indiana Family Institute, Advance America seem to be some of the lobbing groups for this law. These groups are the same groups that attempted to pass a ban on gay marriages into the Indiana constitution last year.

      Mike Pence will say that many other states have “similar” legislation such as neighboring state Illinois. The difference being a possibly disastrous vagueness in this law. Here is a link to a letter written by a pannel of scholars on the law they compare it with past and other laws and explain the differences well https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1687521-law-professors-letter-on-indiana-rfra.html

  2. Thanks for your piece, David. I think this is a tricky topic but you wrote a clear and persuasive post. This is definitely something we need to be talking about at seminaries and divinity schools.

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