Story by: Stephanie McDole, staff writer
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A new law in Indiana has sparked controversy over the past couple of weeks. According to JURIST, the RFRA, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was approved on a vote of 40-10 and signed into law by Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, on March 26.

According to the Indiana General Assembly the law, “Provides that a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.”

The law basically states that the government will not force citizens to go against their religion.

Many of the people against the new law believe that it was was aimed at the LGBT community. However, Pence claims that the law was never intended to legalize discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

According the Indy Star, Pence said, “I’ve never supported that. It’s not on my agenda. But I think it’s a completely separate question. I mean, we are talking about the religious freedom restoration act, which is about restoring the highest level of scrutiny in our state courts in matters of government action that intrude upon the religious liberty of Hoosiers. That’s where I want to stay focused.”

Although Pence has said that the law was not made to discriminate, it still continues to spark controversy, mostly between religious groups and the LGBT community. Despite the laws supposed intentions, the Christian community fired back.

According to USA Today, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), voted unanimously to find a new location for their 2017 convention because they did not support the new bill. The General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, said,  “As a Christian church, we affirm and support religious freedom. It is, in fact, a core principle for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are also strongly committed to an inclusive community — just as Jesus welcomed all to the table.”

The new law has become quite a topic for news stations across America. On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart and former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, talked about the Indiana RFRA and the Arkansas RFRA.

According to the Daily News, Huckabee said, “The reasons that those corporations put the pressure on Indiana and Arkansas was because the militant gay community put the pressure on them.”

Stewarts responded with, “Shut up! So when gays want equality, it’s militancy, and when Christians want to deny service, it’s freedom?”

A new draft of the RFRA has been passed by the Republican party as of April 2.

According to the Indy Star, “This new proposal guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and empowers the government to impose punishing fines on people for following their beliefs about marriage.”

Indiana State Representative of the Democratic Party, Ed Delaney, released a statement saying, “ the ‘fix’ is not enough.”

Delaney released an email to his constituents in which he stated, “I see only one remedy that needs to be taken. First, we need to repeal the current law—then we must reform our civil rights law to add sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally, we need to rewrite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to actually mirror that of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Only then will we be able to send a message to those living in the state and those watching that Indiana is open to all.”

Freedom gone too far

Story by: Ian Carson, Managing Editor
Photo by: Samuel Jobe, staff photographer

religious freedom

Discrimination was legal thanks to Governor Mike Pence and his ever-faithful GOP companions. With the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it was legal to prevent anyone, though homosexuals were the most commonly cited example in this case, from entering a business and using its services. 

The original bill was not specifically designed to permit this activity, but it allowed it. Both the amended bill and the original bill allow for any form of religious expression so long as the State has no “compelling interest” to prevent it. What a compelling interest is exactly, is yet to be defined. This also protects citizens against governmental practices that limit freedom of religion, and allows for people to request a form of repayment if the government prevents this freedom.

As a defence for this law, Pence cited the fact that this was already made federal law by President Bill Clinton, but the law was deemed unconstitutional in City of Boerne v. Flores in 1997, which said that the similar laws should be decided by the states, and not the federal government. This bill is not the same as the federal law, and varied distinctly from other states that had protections for LGBT citizens embedded within the bill. In those bills, LGBT citizens were defined as a protected class of citizens because of the higher likelihood of discrimination, something many states already so for racial minorities. Lying to people, or in this case omitting the truth, is not the way to go when making an argument, and it seems that the governor is running out of argumentative tactics.

What this bill did allow for is discrimination. Although the bill may seem harmless, and almost needed, at first glance, it allowed for businesses to refuse service to anyone based off their religion as a form of religious expression. This is discrimination. And this is not okay. Businesses cannot refuse service to people because of their race, as was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the federal level, however gender identity and sexuality are not protected.

There have been other negative effects on the state as well.

Ignoring the moral transgressions of the bill, it would have a negative impact on Indiana’s economy. Already companies like Eli Lilly and Apple have spoken out against the bill. GenCon and even the Disciples of Christ threatened to pull conventions from Indiana, which are both big money-boosters to the state economy. Indiana has developed a reputation as an unwelcoming and closed-minded state, stuck in the past and bound by bigotry. This is not how Indiana should be seen.

Indiana should get on the right side of history and develop a protected class for LGBT citizens, as they are part of a minority who deserve governmental protection to avoid discrimination. Other states included this within their bills, specifically prohibiting the discrimination that the Indiana bill initially allowed. Representative Ed DeLaney has already proposed two bills that provide such protections.

Recently Mike Pence signed a bill that provided limited protection on the basis of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation– the first time these words have appeared in any Indiana statute. The phrase “too little too late” comes to mind. Indiana has already developed a reputation as a bigoted state, which is a hard reputation to fix.

“I believe that such a bill would prove to be negative for Indiana citizens, even with an addendum,” said Aaron Vodney, 10. 

A bill such as this, disguised as religious freedom, allows people to take away freedom from others. The bill limited the freedom to shop at stores, to provide patronage, and the right to an open economy. The fix cannot fix what already happened. It is impossible to erase history.