Indiana Religious Freedom Act limits freedom

Graphic by Sabrina Storms
Graphic by Sabrina Storms

Common thought would insist that professional discrimination ended in the United States with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One might be surprised to learn what some state governments have tried to get away with since that point in this nation’s history. It is 2015 and yet, there is a lack of equality. Indiana recently passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, guaranteeing the right to all of the state’s inhabitants to practice their religion in whichever way they please. This act has unfortunately proven to be more detrimental than progressive.

There are many problems with this law and its name leads citizens all over the country to misunderstand the true meaning of the law. It allows for the practice of freedom of religion, but it also allows store owners to refuse service to any person they want, only needing to claim it is against their religion to serve or assist the person.

Besides the obvious issue, one thing no one has been able to give the public is a straight yes or no answer as to what this law exactly means. In an interview with CNN, the governor of Indiana was asked directly whether this law was meant to be discriminatory or not. He refused to clear up confusion. Officials under his administration are telling contradictory stories and it has gotten so confusing that the governor is thinking of editing the law, or even retracting it completely.

NPR reported the governor and his campaign manager as being on opposite sides of the issue, and reporting opposing statements when news of the law’s passing first hit the public.

Mike Pence, governor of Indiana since 2013, in a report to NPR said, “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Campaign manager Katie Blair opposed in the same interview and said, “This is a sad day for Indiana. Over the past month, Hoosiers who want our state to be open to everyone filled the halls at the Statehouse. We wrote letters and delivered them in person. We called until they stopped answering the phones. We made it clear that this law will only be used to harm other Hoosiers, and that’s not the Indiana way.”

Do you believe the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act limits freedoms?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Another problem is that the law justifies prejudicial stereotyping. Many in the nation believed the centuries of persecution to be over for the LGBT+ community. Unfortunately, legislation such as this in Indiana has done the opposite and is now encouraging the stereotypes.

Snopes reported an instance in March of this year, where former Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and her husband Marcus had a peculiar experience with a local fashion boutique in Indiana. Marcus, planning to surprise his wife with some clothing, went out for the afternoon to do some shopping.

Dorothy Holtz, owner of Dotty’s Dress Den, the local boutique, said, “I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary at first, although I don’t usually have men come in by themselves. He was very polite but the more he spoke, the more I thought he was different.” Holtz soon came to the conclusion that Bachmann was “perhaps a homosexual man”, she proceeded to ask him to leave, a prejudice allowed under the freedom of religion act.

Gay people can not be identified as gay simply just by looking at their exterior. And, if they are, it does not matter. Marcus Bachmann was persecuted for being not gay, just as a gay person would be persecuted. Neither can do anything about their situation, because being gay is not something that can be helped. Being gay is no easier to change than the color of one’s skin and to assume otherwise is to be ignorant.

By confusing the public and instilling old-school tactics of stereotyping, this law has already shoved Indiana’s people decades back in progression for gay rights. If people were educated on what being gay actually meant, they might feel differently about what freedom means. They might feel as though everyone deserves the right to be themselves, and not be turned away from a meal for it.

The main opposition for the law staying intact at this point, seems to be the right of Indiana residents to be able to practice their religion in the way they want. The simple conclusion to draw is this: for 227 years the amendment guaranteed by the constitution which states any citizens right to practice the religion of their choosing has been enough to secure the freedom of this nation’s inhabitants.

Changing it now seems like a ploy for discrimination. Our nation should strive to take a step forward, rather than two back.