Last Thursday, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in Indiana. The law potentially allows for-profit businesses to refuse service to certain groups based on any religious grievances these businesses might encounter. To understand why this law is seeded in so much controversy, let’s look at its origins.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was first signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. While the bill applies to all religions, its original creation was to protect both the sacred lands of Native Americans from being destroyed by US expansion projects and the use of peyote for Native American religious ceremonies. Since then, numerous states have enacted laws that mirror their federal predecessor.
Being a bisexual woman who also identifies as Christian, the passing of this law makes me more than uneasy for several (obvious) reasons:
The RFRA opens the door to discrimination
The main reason this law is so dangerous is the potential increase of discrimination that could arise from its enactment. Though there are cities that have nondiscrimination laws, statewide Indiana does not have laws that protect those who identify as LGBTQ. Ultimately, this simply means that the RFRA leaves the door wide open for prejudice and bigotry against a group of people who are already unprotected against discrimination.
Inherently protecting the rights of Christians
As I previously stated, the original purpose of this act was to safeguard against discrimination of Native American tribes and their religious practices. Despite this, I highly doubt that this is the case at hand. Yes, I do understand that religion is deeply engrained in the lives of many Americans. I also understand why people want to protect these religious views. What I am not grasping, however, is why Mike Pence and other supporters of this law feel that their religious rights are being infringed upon by having to provide service to certain groups of people. Mike Pence and other proponents of the RFRA in Indiana most likely prescribe to Christian values. Because of this, they automatically belong to the religious majority, which, in essence, allows them religious privilege. Christians do not have to fight for our religious rights like Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans or other religious minorities might. Would this law be so accommodating as to protect a Muslim’s right to refuse Christian customers on the basis of “substantial burden?”…I highly doubt it. And what about individuals who identify as BOTH Christian AND LGBTQ? Will this law still allow for-profit businesses to refuse services to them as well?
Intent is everything
So, what has people so up in arms about the implications of this law? To anyone who has been keeping up with the Indiana RFRA law, the answer is simple. Honestly, I would have no problem if this specific bill was created to protect the rights of religious minorities. But when Mike Pence dodges George Stephanopoulos’ repeatedly asked question, the intent of this law could not be clearer. For someone wanting to clarify the “misunderstanding” of this law, Pence did an amazing job at doing the complete opposite. While Pence voiced that the law would not target LGBTQ, anti-gay activists were present at the signing last Thursday.
Thousands of Americans have responded to the law, some of which believe boycotting Indiana would be the wisest choice. While boycotting Indiana certainly brings attention of the RFRA law to the forefront of conversation regarding LGBTQ discrimination, I believe it will hurt hundreds of Indiana businesses that don’t agree with the bill. For those Indiana businesses whose views don’t align with the recent law, the campaign Open For Service provides participating business with a sticker to illustrate their solidarity and commitment to opposing discrimination of any kind. Though a fairly new grassroots campaign, it’s a step in the right direction. Others have taken to social media to voice their opposition to the new law, particularly with the hashtag #DearMikePence.
More respect could – and would- be given to Pence if he stood firm in his beliefs. But to shamelessly masquerade them under the guise of religious protection is insulting to all parties involved.
Regardless of how people are choosing to act out against Indiana’s RFRA, one thing is still clear: this law is a dangerous obstacle in the fight for equality.