Religious Right Tyranny Crushed in Indiana as RFRA Revision Signed into Law


After House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long – both Republicans – announced changes to Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act Thursday morning, Gov. Mike Pence waited no longer than the afternoon to sign them into law. These changes had been approved by the Indiana House on a 66-30 vote, and by the Indiana Senate on a 34-16 vote.

If nothing else, the rapid response of Republican lawmakers shows that Republican-controlled assemblies can actually do something if they put their mind to it. Let this be a lesson to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner: are you paying attention?

Watch courtesy of ABC’s RTV6:

In his statement, Pence said,

The freedom of religion for every Hoosier is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and in the Indiana Constitution, which reads, ‘No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.’ For generations, these protections have served as a bulwark of religious liberty for Hoosiers and remain a foundation of religious liberty in the State of Indiana, and that will not change.

Last week the Indiana General Assembly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act raising the judicial standard that would be used when government action intrudes upon the religious liberty of Hoosiers, and I was pleased to sign it.

Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.

Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged. I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law.

Hoosiers deserve to know, that even with this legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enhances protections for every church, non-profit religious organization or society, religious school, rabbi, priest, preacher, minister or pastor in the review of government action where their religious liberty is infringed. The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing.

In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation. For that I will be forever grateful.

There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, ‘What is best for Indiana?’ I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.

Our state is rightly celebrated for our pro-business environment, and we enjoy an international reputation for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance and kindness of our people. Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan; it is our way of life. Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.

The question now is, what exactly are those changes, and are they enough? Are they a serious attempt to right a wrong, or merely a sop to critics?

Republicans want you to believe these are actual, meaningful changes to a law which has been excoriated from coast to coast. And they are, to a degree.

The Human Rights Campaign lays out the changes thusly:

In cities (including Indianapolis) which have LGBT non-discrimination protections on the books, the RFRA cannot be used as a defense to discrimination against LGBT people in:

  • Employment: A private, secular employer can no longer cite their personal religion as the reason that they fired or refused to hire an LGBT person.
  • Housing: A landlord can no longer cite their personal religion as the reason that they refused to rent to or evicted an LGBT person.
  • Public Accommodations: A restaurant owner can no longer cite their personal religion as the reason they refused service to an LGBT person

The “fix” does not address other critical areas such as:

  • Healthcare: A private pharmacist could still cite their personal religious beliefs as the reason for denying a legitimate prescription to an LGBT person seeking HIV medication, hormone therapy, or to a lesbian couple seeking fertility drugs.
  • Education: A parent could still sue an individual teacher for intervening when their child harasses another child that is perceived to be LGBT.

In cities without LGBT non-discrimination protections on the books, LGBT Hoosiers still face discrimination of all kinds. Based on the 2010 census, approximately 20 percent or 1/5 of Hoosiers live in a place with LGBT non-discrimination protections. Meaning approximately 80 percent of Hoosiers live in a place with no explicit protection from or recourse for LGBT discrimination under state or local law.

According to Bosma, “We want to assure that every Hoosier’s rights are protected and won’t be infringed upon by the enactment of RFRA. We value each and every Hoosier.”

From the above, you can see that the amendment failed where “every Hoosier’s rights” are concerned.

Of course, he wanted to talk about “perceptions” of the RFRA and not its grotesque reality:

Hoosier hospitality had to be restored. Indiana does not discriminate against anyone: gay, straight, lesbian, black, white, religious, non-religious. RFRA was considered an exclusion of the LGBT community and nothing could be further from the truth. We welcome everyone, we discriminate against no one. Many of us have family members who are gay. We never intended for this law to discriminate.

Right. The “I have gay friends/family” line. If I have these, I can’t possibly be anti-gay. How easily the lies come to glib Republican tongues when their feet are to the fire. I might remind him who passed this heinous piece of legislation in the first place.

Long said, “There is a place for the law. We’re talking about protected class status for sexual orientation in Indiana and that’s a good thing.”

Say what? I think probably they’ll be asking for his Party Card for that alone. Did the Indiana GOP just divorce the Religious Right?

In reaching the agreement to clarify the law, it cannot and will not be used to discriminate against anyone, anywhere at anytime. Hopefully, the change to this law will put an end to what this law was misinterpreted to be.

Even if, strictly speaking, untrue, that seems almost a denunciation of everything the GOP has stood for, which is basically to discriminate against everyone, everywhere, at all times.

Eli Lilly and Salesforce are both happy with the changes. According to the list of reactions compiled by NBC affiliate WTHR, most people are. Even George Takei. Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle, however, says he is not, that,

Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.

And despite the changes, the ACLU of Indiana reacted with muted enthusiasm to say the least:

State lawmakers today announced an update to the Indiana RFRA to ensure that it cannot be used to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers in communities with local human rights ordinances in public accommodation, housing or employment. This measure is the first time that Indiana state law has included positive references to sexual orientation and gender identity, and it represents a step in the right direction.

However, to ensure that Indiana state law provides statewide civil rights protections that include sexual orientation or gender identity, we have more work to do.

In a press release yesterday, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, had this to say:

“The Religious Right has tried in two states to weaponize the concept of religious freedom.

The Indiana legislature has improved their bill somewhat, but we still don’t believe these nondiscrimination provisions go far enough. Yet, the Religious Right greeted these new but limited protections as though they’re a harbinger of the apocalypse.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, legislators claim to have fixed their RFRA by having it mirror the federal version. Because the Supreme Court reinterpreted the law so drastically in Hobby Lobby, it could allow discrimination and undermine civil rights.

These bills have nothing to do with religious freedom.”

In the end, no matter how you view these changes, the Religious Right has earned itself a well-deserved black eye for a classic example of overreach. The result is, in an attempt to set back the clock in their war on marriage equality, they have instead set back the cause of discrimination to a profound degree. A degree impossible if they had not made the RFRA law in the first place.

In having to back down, to surrender to the so-called “homofascists,” the State of Indiana has ended up with laws that are more, not less, gay friendly, than before the push for the RFRA began.

It is a victory, folks. An unprecedented victory, even, as the Religious Right’s big moment has turned to ashes before their eyes. Indiana law had never before contained such language of protection.

And that alone is a thing to celebrate. To paraphrase Genghis Khan, now that we have crushed our enemies and seen them fall at our feet, let us sit back and take a moment to enjoy their lamentations.

It is, after all, as old Genghis said, what is best in life.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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