A License To Discriminate

The truth behind Indiana's new "religious freedom" law.

What You Need To Know About Indiana’s New “Religious Freedom” Law

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a law last Thursday that further enables discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the state. The so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” or RFRA, uses the guise of protecting religious liberty to enable private citizens and organizations to deny services to others if they claim that their religious views are “substantially burdened.”

The event has led to an enormous, broad-based backlash, including from a number of companies that are worried the law is bad for business. It also has led to some confused reporting from major news outlets about what the new law actually does.

Here are the four things you need to know about this license to discriminate.

1. Religious freedom is a core American value and a basic right, which is why it is already protected by the Constitution. The Indiana RFRA is an unnecessary law — one that opens a can of worms that would allow corporations and other private entities to justify discrimination against individuals that might otherwise be protected under law. Religious freedom doesn’t give us the right to harm others or force our religious beliefs on those who hold different views.

2. The new law has caused a massive wave of high-profile backlash. More than a dozen high-profile companies with presences in the state have protested the law, including major tech companies, three of the state’s major universities, the NCAA, the Indiana Pacers basketball team, and Eli Lilly and Company, the global drug giant which employs 11,000 in the state. Hillary Clinton expressed her displeasure, and celebrities from pop star Miley Cyrus to actor George Takei took to social media to slam the law.

3. The Indiana RFRA is different — and worse — than the federal RFRA and other state RFRAs. The Washington Post has written that there are other states with laws like Indiana’s, and Gov. Pence has claimed that President Obama, as an Illinois state Senator, voted for “the very same language.” But while at first glance they may appear similar, there is a significant distinction that extends the ramifications of the Indiana law beyond many others. While other RFRAs apply to disputes between a person or entity and a government, Indiana’s includes a clause that applies to disputes between private citizens or entities. What’s more, while the federal, and many state RFRAs, provide protection only if a law in question substantially burdens a person’s religious exercise, the Indiana RFRA only requires that the complainant believe their religious freedom may “likely” be violated to invoke the law’s protection.

4. Even if the Indiana RFRA is clarified, LGBT discrimination will be legal in much of Indiana and most of the U.S. As we have written about before, 29 states lack explicit sexual orientation nondiscrimination protections, and 32 states lack explicit gender identity nondiscrimination protections. That means a gay person can be legally married one day, and then legally fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity the next.

BOTTOM LINE: Rather than expand exemptions for people who don’t want to follow the law, we should be working to protect all people from discrimination and create the inclusive prosperity that helps our economy and our families. Hopefully the politicians in Indiana (and elsewhere) promoting these kinds of laws to discriminate will see that citizens are not behind them, and companies will take their business elsewhere.

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