This liberty is supposed to be protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but activist judges have reinterpreted the Constitution to suit their own values with the approval of a broad sector of society. Those adhering to traditional Christian morality are labeled as practicing “hate” and are increasingly persecuted through legal action. Thus the new law.
In fact, RFRA is a federal law passed by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton that was intended to cover federal, state and local government. However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the law only applied at the federal level. This led individual states over the years since to pass their own RFRAs. Indiana is just the latest of 21 states that have done so (and 11 other states have similar provisions through state court decisions rather than legislation).
Indiana’s bill more directly came about after the nationally debated Hobby Lobby case in which the company sought to be exempt from having to provide employees with insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs under President Barack Obama’s health-care law. (Thankfully the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in that case.)
Furthermore, the Indiana legislation came on the heels of various courts forcing businesses to cater to gay weddings and the like—and the law was seen by some as a way to guard against that.
Not surprisingly, Indiana’s RFRA was swiftly denounced by liberal politicians and interest groups, particularly gay rights activists, as a “license to discriminate.” Various others then began to pile on against the law to escape the stigma of appearing to favor discrimination—and Indiana officials went into damage control.
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence said:
“I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore. As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993” (“Ensuring Religious Freedom in Indiana,” March 31, 2015).
Many conservatives were disappointed that Governor Pence ended up signing a “clarification bill,” approving changes to the law “amid fears that it would allow discrimination against lesbians and gays” (Associated Press, April 2).
Speaking on CBS News’ program Face the Nation, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum issued this answer to those on the left who say religious freedom laws just let businesses discriminate against homosexuals:
“‘Tolerance is a two-way street. If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates . . . [a derogatory term for gays]’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up? . . . Should the government—and this is really the case here—should the government force you to do that?” (April 5, 2015). Obviously not. Likewise the government should not be able to compel Christian business owners to support what they consider immoral.
As society drifts farther from God, we can expect the persecution of those advocating biblical morality to increase. (Sources: Associated Press, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal.)