There is a lot of talk going on lately about the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and with good reason. Some support it, some don’t…and many seem to be confused as to what it is and why it’s a big deal. The confusion needs to go. My problems with the Indiana law are two-fold. First, my religious freedom is already protected by the first amendment to the US constitution and by my state’s (and Indiana’s) constitution as well. I fail to see why we need a special law saying we have the right to religious freedom when that issue was solved with the Bill of Rights. Along with this issue, goes another one (a big one for me), and that is the inherent hypocrisy of those who support the law. Now, those that know me should know that nothing gets my goat more than hypocrisy. To quote Denzel (Remember the Titans- great flick, but I digress): I may be a mean old cuss but I am the same mean old cuss to everyone. I like consistency if you don’t support something for someone else then you can’t claim to have a right to it or a need for it.
So, where is the hypocrisy, you ask? I am glad that you did (even if you didn’t we are going to pretend that you did, so go with it). See, my biggest issue is that many of the laws proponents argue that the LGBT community is not asking for equality, but for ‘special rights.’ They hold the idea that people already have the right to marry who they wish, but LGBTers want ‘special rights’ just for them. I don’t hold to this opinion (I find it highly flawed, offensive, and discriminatory) but if you do, so be it. But if you do, yet you support the Indiana law, you are by definition, a hypocrite. As I already mentioned, religious freedom is already protected, the proponents of the Indiana law do not want religious freedom (which they have all had since birth) but they want ‘special rights’ they claim are within the mandates of their religion. Rights that may possibly violate other state and federal statutes.
We have anti-discrimination laws for a reason. We shouldn’t have to have them, but we do because people generally suck. These laws do not harm anyone nor do they violate the first amendment. See, like with all rights, there is a limit to what you can do with that. We have freedom of speech, but we can still be prosecuted for telling lies (libel), mis-truths (slander), or any speech that causes or threatens active harm (threats of violence, or screaming fire in a crowded theater.) These limits are not stifling our freedoms, but, rather protecting them…for everybody. The same holds true for religious freedom. Your religious freedom ends at the point where someone is exposed to undue harm. Hence, why stoning or human sacrifice (or sacrifice of any kind, generally speaking) are still illegal. This is the reason that, despite many religions supporting and/or promoting it, polygamy is still illegal in many states, because it has shown to come with a lack of consent and harm to individuals (sometimes underage)…see: Colorado City.
In fact, the argument over religious freedom is hardly anything new. SCOTUS has decided this issue many times over, and reached the same (ish) conclusion every time. The exception being the Hobby Lobby case…well, sort of. The big religious freedom case was US v. Lee. An Amish man made the argument that as we was spiritually opposed to social security, he shouldn’t have the pay the employer required contribution on behalf of his non-Amish employees. SCOTUS basically said, uh-unh, doesn’t work that way. Well, actually they said: When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity. In other words, when you open a business you make a ‘choice.’ No one says you are required to do so, and no one is forcing you to open a business against your will…you choose to do that. As such, in making that choice, you agree to follow any and all laws and regulations that apply to that business. There are laws on the books that state you are not allowed to discriminate against someone in your business, these laws are unfortunately necessary and are around for a reason. They protect those to whom others wish to place an, undue burden. That’s the language used in the Hobby Lobby case, too, but wrongfully applied.
See, if the government can show that a law fulfills a fundamental need, is in the public good, (or shows compelling interest) and doesn’t place an undue burden upon others then that law is not in violation of anyone’s religious rights. For example, the state can require vaccinations (oh, if only they would) because they can prove that it is a compelling interest (i.e. Vaccinations save lives, improve community health and cost far less than the treatment of said diseases.) The government can prove that required vaccinations to keep a public healthy, is the least restrictive method of doing so. In the Hobby Lobby case, the court again used this compelling interest/undue burden requirement. Where it dropped the ball was here. See, the decision stated that the government did prove that requiring employers to give health coverage (and that, that coverage cover contraception) was in a compelling interest (side note: in stating this the court has already decided for the ACA). Where the government failed, according to the court, was to prove that such a requirement was the least restrictive method of obtaining their goals…and thus, violated the owner’s ‘strongly held religious beliefs.’ But where the courts failed is that they forgot that Hobby Lobby would then place that ‘burden’ on a third party…the employees. (Yes, this is all the fault of the Hobby Lobby case…way to go for unintended consequences).
The Indiana law would allow businesses to refuse service to individuals based on their ‘strongly held religious beliefs.’ (Since, you know, corporations are people now and have religious freedom). This, however, places an undue burden on consumers (discrimination). The law essentially forces others to comply with another’s ‘strongly held religious beliefs,’ which is, in all actuality, unconstitutional. How can this go wrong? Say some one has a ‘strongly held religious belief’ that black people are unclean and thus refuses to serve them in their establishment. Many would agree (I hope) that this is a false belief and that allowing a business to carry out this plan is wrong. But that is exactly what the law allows to be done to the LGBT community. How much longer before they refuse to hire certain group of people? The Indiana law, and the Hobby Lobby decision, places the ‘rights’ of a business above the rights of the individual. This is why I have a problem with both the new law, and the decision. Your religion does not give you the right to discriminate against people. (If you want a more professional opinion, one of lawyers and such, with all the legal mumbo jumbo click here)