Those Christian bigots are at it again. And this time it’s those Gun-Lovin’, Bible Thumpin’, Cousin’ Marryin’ conservative rednecks over in Indiana.
On March 26th, Mike Pence (the Governor of Indiana) signed into law the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA as it’s known). Many people got quite upset by this new law, and immediately both mainstream media and social media went beserk.
A twitter hashtag ‘#boycottIndiana‘ started being used (you know it’s a serious issue when a hashtag is allocated).
And this sort of stuff started being tweeted:
What’s The Concern?
According to many on the secular Left, such as the New York Times, the key concern with this law is that it could be an ‘invitation to discriminate against gays‘.
The controversial Indiana law is modeled on a Federal RFRA that was signed into law by Democratic Governor Bill Clinton in 1993. As of this blog post, 19 other US States have near identical RFRA’s signed into law: that’s 40 % of US States. The basic purpose of the both the Federal and State level RFRA’s is to protect religious freedom, by prohibiting the government from ‘substantially burdening’ individuals exercise of religion unless it is for a ‘compelling government interest’, and is doing so ‘in the least restrictive means’.
In other words, people have a right to practice their religion, unless the government can show (in a court of law) that there is a very good reason why people shouldn’t practice their religion (or part thereof). The keyword here is ‘compelling‘: according to the US constitution (and the RFRA’s), religious freedom is the default right of every US citizen: if it’s to be minimized in any way by the government, it must be for a compelling reason.
Thus freedom of religion is not unlimited, and nobody is saying that it should be.
That is hardly a controversial law, as far as traditional western liberal democracies go. But it seems that the US is no longer a traditional western liberal democracy, with all the outrage at this ‘new’ law.
Apple Ceo Tim Cook (who himself is gay) recently wrote that:
Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law…That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges.
Strong words from the Apple CEO.
(Interestingly enough, Tim Cook hasn’t withdrawn any Apple business from Islamic countries, even though most middle eastern countries make it illegal to practice homosexuality).
Hillary Clinton (yes, the wife of the former President Bill Clinton who signed the Federal RFRA into law in 1993) recently showed her concern with the Indiana law through twitter:
Mrs Clinton, you do remember your husband signing very similar legislation into law in 1993? With a whole lot of celebration and publicity, if I may so. Here’s the documentary evidence:
Oh well, as they say in politics, ‘that was then, and this is now’.
Conneticut Governor Dannel Malloy got so upset by this law that he signed an executive order on Monday barring state spending on travel to Indiana. According to his logic he should also boycott the Capital of the USA, Washington D.C., since the Federal version of the RFRA is still in force there.
So Why Is Indiana Copping All The Flack?
The Indiana Governor is right to scratch his head wondering why he’s receiving so much heat for signing off on this law, even though a very similar version is found in Federal law, and 19 other states have very similar legislation.
Writing in the Washington Post, Phillip Bump has this to say:
Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) can’t seem to figure out why his state has been the focus of condemnation and boycotts after having passed a version of “religious freedom” legislation that already exists in 19 other states. Pointing out those states, Pence told a reporter from the Indianapolis Star, “I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state.”
Bump knows why there’s so much hostility to the new Indiana law:
‘…Pence’s problem is that the 19 other laws were largely passed well before the recent and dramatic swing toward support for gay marriage…’
It’s all in the timing, Mr Pence.
And Indiana has the misfortune of trying to bring in this law now that more than 50% of people are for gay marriage, according to Gallop:
I’ve had a chance to think about this whole firestorm over the last week or so, not least because the dust has settled somewhat. And so here are my thoughts.
1) We Are Living Through a Moral Revolution of Unprecedented Speed.
The Federal RFRA in 1993 was not only signed into law by a member of the political left (i.e. Democratic President Bill Clinton), but it was one of the few bills in US history where both the Right and the Left of politics were near unanimously agreed that Freedom of Religion is a vital human right that needs protecting:
- The law was passed unanimously through the US Congress. That’s 100% support in a highly politicized environment: let that sink in.
- There were only 3 dissenting votes in the US Senate.
- The coalition of organisations that advocated for this bill included such religious organisations as The National Association of Evangelicals, and such secular (and at times anti-religious) organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
In other words, in 1993, both religious conservatives and the secular Left considered this bill fundamental to human rights, and the height of progressive thought and conduct. President Clinton (a very pro-gay president), speaking at the signing of the law, said:
‘This act [i.e. the Federal RFRA] will [honor] the principle that our laws and institutions should not impede or hinder but rather should protect and preserve fundamental religious liberties.
That’s a moral revolution of unprecedented speed.
Let that sink in.
2) The Media (and social Media) Have Completely Misunderstood/Misrepresented This Bill.
“The hysteria over this law is so unjustified…It’s not about discriminating against gays in general or across the board…It’s about not being involved in a ceremony that you believe is inherently religious.”
In other words, the law is aimed at protecting freedom of religious conscience. The example Laycock gives is of a Christian baker being asked to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony: this law would (in theory) give some legal protection to the Christian baker were they to decline baking that cake for the couple, because of not wanting to participate in a gay wedding.
But the hysteria is phenomenal. Check out this fine tweet:
The trouble is, no gay person has ever been refused such service because of the Federal (or other State’s) RFRA.
On the contrary, the hysteria is whipped up by ideologically biased reporting that is extremely prejudiced against any notions of religious freedom.
And so half the battle when it comes to a story like this is understanding what Freedom of Religion/Conscience is all about. So here it is:
3) Exercising Freedom Of Religion/Conscience is Not About Hating People.
Imagine Betty, a signmaker who is a staunch pro-abortion feminist. Betty happily services all customers, regardless of where they stand on the abortion issue.
However, if a customer, Sue, came in and said to Betty: ‘Hey Betty, I’m going to a pro-life rally soon. Could you make me a sign with the words ‘Abortion is Murder’?
Should pro-abortion Betty be forced to make that sign for the pro-life march, even though she fiercely disagrees with it?
I would think not.
Traditionally, western notions of freedom of conscience have allowed for such dissent from CAUSES or EVENTS.
Even large businesses like Google have benefited from such views of conscience (e.g. Google has a policy of not advertising tobacco products, even in jurisdictions where doing so is legal: so far, big tobacco hasn’t been able to force Google to do otherwise).
And so there’s a BIG difference between a business denying someone service simply because of who they are (e.g. gay, black, pro-life etc), versus the business not supporting a CAUSE or an EVENT that conflicts with the business’ conscience.
In Australia, commercial station Channel 9 recently decided not to show a pro-traditional marriage ad on tv (even though the ad was perfectly legal and passed all applicable standards).
Should Channel 9 be penalized for exercising it’s conscience?
And yet, when it comes to a Same Sex Wedding (an EVENT if ever there was one!), if a wedding photographer/baker/florist exercises their conscience and declines to support the gay wedding, they’re immediately assumed to be ‘hateful’, ‘anti-gay’, ‘discriminatory’, etc. And now punished in a court of law if they dissent from such an event.
So much for freedom of conscience.
And so here’s the key to this whole media firestorm. The reason that there’s so much opposition to the Indiana RFRA, and to the notion of religious freedom in general, is because of this:
4) If You Merely Disagree With Any Part of the LGBT Lifestyle or Agenda, You Will Be Condemned.
Just ask the owners of Memories Pizza, in Indiana.
When a local reporter happened to come in this unassuming Pizza joint, and ask them what they thought of the proposed law, this is what they said: “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no…we are a Christian establishment,”.
(Which self-respecting gay couple would go to a pizza joint for their wedding reception? But that’s the point: it was merely a hypothetical question).
To clarify, they let it be known that ‘if a gay couple or a couple belonging to another religion come in to the restaurant to eat, they would not be turned away’.
As a result of this (un-requested) interview, a girls golf coach at an Indiana high school tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?” The pizzeria received death threats and harassment and felt forced to shut down the shop. The owners have said they don’t know if it will be safe to re-open.
Liberal reporter Kirsten Powers summed it up well:
The wrath of gay rights supporters rained down on Memories Pizza because O’Connor committed a thought crime. She discriminated against nobody, but thinks the “wrong” thing about same-sex marriage and she said it out loud.
Social hostility toward those who merely think differently about same-sex marriage is growing at an alarming rate. And where the culture goes, government inevitably follows.
Thankfully, in the midst of this hostility, there were voices of reason from the gay community:
5) Less Freedom Of Conscience Means a Less Free Society For All.
If the the LGBT activists and their supporters get their way, then freedom of conscience will take a beating. Not just for those who oppose same sex marriage, mind you: sure it might start with us, but it won’t end there.
Once ‘freedom of religion/conscience’ is seen as nothing more than a ‘licence to discriminate’, then it won’t be long before society (and thus the state) will remove other people’s ‘freedom to discriminate’. After all, if there is one thing society can’t stand (at least not for too long) it’s double standards. If Christians (and other religious people) can be forced to violate their consciences, then why shouldn’t every secular Sue, Tom, and Harry be forced to do the same when they disagree with the cultural/political winds?
Journalist Mollie Hemmingway puts it very well:
“Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One?”
A society where people are forced to violate their beliefs for no compelling reason, or face punishment for refusing to do so, is not a free society: it is on the road to becoming a totalitarian one.
Conclusion: What About Muslim Bakeries?
It’s interesting to note that much of the hate on social media is directed against Christians who might happen to have conscientious objections to participating in a same sex wedding.
But has anyone asked Muslim bakeries (for example) whether they would bake a cake for a gay wedding?
Well one political commentator did just that, and it’s interesting to see what happened. I’ll leave this blog post with the following video for your interest and enjoyment:
Photo Source: Dollarphotoclub.com