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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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View Comments

  • I just cannot see this as a win. This is just an attempt to get everyone off their backs. When 80% of a state can still discriminate freely, that is no victory. And while I can appreciate the fact that the tide has definitely swung to the side of equal rights, I don't believe this can be considered a fix. It is a fail and we need to keep the pressure on until it is truly corrected.

    • SunnyDay, spot on.

      If he was truly "sincere" he would not have made the law to begin with.

      This is a fake fix. Another attempt by the GOPT to push the envelope and see what they can get away with.

      • When 80% of a state can still discriminate freely, that is no victory.
        ```````````````````````````

        If the fix is insufficient, it’s because the RFRA was never the problem to begin with.
        .
        .
        .
        Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle
        ````````````````
        Using the issue as a smokescreen.

      • The Indiana RFRA NEVER gave anyone some new-found freedom to discriminate. The law only gives individuals and businesses a POTENTIAL defense in court - a defense that must still be proven. RFRA statutes DON'T protect cases of ad-hoc discrimination.

        The legislation will now make clear that RFRA can’t undo public accommodation laws where they exist in Indiana, but … that’s it. (Which would almost certainly have been the case in court anyway - courts have NEVER allowed RFRA defenses for broad discrimination.)

        The actual issue in Indiana remains what it has always been. The lack of a statewide public accommodation law. Sexual orientation is NOT a *protected class* in Indiana.

        • The Indiana RFRA NEVER gave anyone some new-found freedom to discriminate.

          Actually, it did. It expanded on the Hobby Lobby ruling, now making it legal for any business to discriminate against any Americans OPENLY with whom they disagree, using religion as the excuse.

          The law only gives individuals and businesses a POTENTIAL defense in court

          Which, if that person can't afford an attorney (and these days, who can?), will have their civil rights violated, all the while bigoted businesses hiding behind religion can continue to refuse service to anyone they don't like until the lawsuit - which can take YEARS - is settled.

          The RFRA is a step BACKWARDS in civil rights. Anyone who refuses to see it is either disingenuous or is an outright bigot and racist of the "privileged" class in the U.S. who will never know the discrimination this law would perpetrate on regular people or, as those bigots would call them, "those others".

        • Recall that the federal RFRA has been in existence for over 20 years and it's been interpreted several times over now in the course of those years by the federal courts.

          Indiana's RFRA - since the last SC decision on Hobby Lobby is so recent- is the first state to draft an RFRA to include certain businesses. This is a direct result of the U.S. SC applying the federal RFRA to include closely held corporations under the definition of a person under Hobby Lobby .
          SC decisions do have a tendency to set the precedent and to subsequently be followed.

          Perhaps someone can show me where in the past any business won the right to discriminate against gays under the RFRA. Since the LGBT community hasn't been protected under Indiana state law since ....ever... where are all of the cases of discrimination?

        • Your RW-mistake, charlie, is to equate the Indiana RFRA law to that of the Federal. AGAIN, they're NOT the same. Similar? Yes. Same? NO.

          The most striking difference is Section 9. Under that section, a “person” (which under the law includes not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity) whose “exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened” can use the law as “a claim or defense… regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.”

          Every other Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to disputes between a person or entity and a government.

          Indiana’s is the only law that explicitly applies to disputes between private citizens.

          Get it now?

    • They can put a nice shine on the hate, can't they?
      Indianastan is still a back-water mooching off of the federal government state.

  • And this is from the same party that used to say they hated frivolous lawsuits. And here they are helping to ensure them.

  • Thank goodness that the principle of religious liberty will no longer trump someone's right to sue after exhaustively searching for a bakery that would politely decline to make them a cake.

  • Anti-LGBTQ laws and anti-choice laws are both religious intrusions in the lives of American citizens. Defend female citizen's rights like they were your own. Because they are. No one is free until we're all out from under religion's thumb.

    • religion was created by MEN who needed to keep the feeble minded under control, kept stupid and scared shitless

    • They can put a shine on it, but they're still a "we hate you" state, unless you're a straight, white christian ignorant male.

  • They want to pass laws of protection FOR religious freedom. What they can't understand and will not do is pass laws that have protection FROM religious freedom. That is beyond their comprehension. "Weaponize the concept of religious freedom," THAT is a powerfully TRUE statement. I think it is absolutely correct that this was timed to come out before the supreme court decision sometime in June or July.

    • They're afaid that the SCOTUS will vote IN FAVOR of same-sex marriage, that's why the red bigoted states are passing these state bills.

  • Thank you RW Conservative Supreme Court Justices for your rulings on 'Citizens United' & 'Hobby Lobby.' While I knew these two gems were damaging, I'm shocked at how quickly they're being used to dismantle democracy in the US Constitution & Bill of Rights, state by state.

    Now if one can't buy the kind of 'freedom & liberty' (two words the GOP uses interchangeably to describe the preservation of their righteous way of living) one wants, all they have to do is utter the following, "It's against my deeply held, religious beliefs," and voilà, they're allowed to legally discriminate.

  • I found it interesting that one lady stated that those of us believe in the rights of all people want to have our cake and eat too and make everyone do what they say and forget how other people feel. When it was pointed out to her that the so called religion right wanted to take away the rights of those they disapprove of on their so called religious belief while claiming to be religious, have just went out their head. They must not know what the golden rule of religion is or if they did, they wouldn't act the way they do. These are the people who didn't want blacks to have any rights, nor did the men want the women to have any rights,so that right there tell you just how clueless the whole party is. They live in this world of make believe of long ago that will not come back and when it them that they will be left on the way side to pick up behind themselves, cook their own food, etc. they will still be counting to see how far their money go, not far.

  • We live in a country that allows people to practice a religion (or not), go to church, study at home, teach their children the Bible, etc., without fear of government. No one is going to go into your church and haul you off to jail because you practice one religion versus another. Likewise, you won't be persecuted for NOT being religious.

    What you CANNOT do is discriminate against people in the public sphere because of YOUR personal religious beliefs. You simply cannot do it. And preventing that does not mean YOU are being persecuted by any stretch of the imagination. What Indiana did is straight up discrimination and is reminiscent of "whites only."

    No Christian in this country is being persecuted just because they aren't allowed to discriminate or mistreat people who do not share their PERSONAL beliefs.

    Really, you want to talk religious persecution? Look at what just happened in Kenya. THAT is religious persecution.

    • Ever so often , I hear a religious nut case rant about how their rights are trampled! I usually go into a rant myself! However you have so eloquently spoken tru to power, I am going to give you a thumbs up and suggest others do the same!

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