Indiana's controversial new bill signed into law is called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The bill guarantees individuals the right to conduct business without 'substantially burdening their ability to exercise their religion.'

It has been roundly condemned around the nation. Seattle's mayor went so far as to issue a travel ban to Indiana for city workers, while San Francisco's mayor is considering a ban on city funds being sent to the Hoosier state.

Nevertheless, the 'extremely controversial' RFRA is based on a 1993 Federal Law, which is also dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was signed into law by 'right-wing extremist' president Bill Clinton.

RFRA Existing graphic

Above is a map of the states that have signed onto versions of the 1993 RFRA signed into law by former President Bill Clinton (as of 2014). The ACLU map shows 19 states that adopted such legislation; Utah and Indiana more recently passed laws.

There are currently 21 states with religious freedom laws: Alabama (state constitution amendment), Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Even blue states like Connecticut and Rhode Island have versions of the law. That is because the law is not as sweeping in its implications as activists seem to be suggesting.

The RFRA does not give businesses a “license to discriminate” against LGBT persons, but rather works within a narrow legal parameter to give businesses defense against federal lawsuit. That is because the states can recognize individual rights in a more assertive fashion than the federal government, under the 9th and 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The HSLDA explains:

[The RFRA] reestablished a test by which courts must give the highest deference to a person’s religious practice (known as the compelling interest test). This test puts the burden of proof on the government to show that its regulation of a religious practice is essential to achieve a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.

A fact sheet issued by the Indiana House Republicans addresses other concerns:

The only thing RFRA does is establish a judicial review standard state courts must follow when they consider cases where government action is alleged to substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion. This general standard of favoring religious freedom can be overcome if the governmental entity has a “compelling interest” in the matter and uses the least restrictive means of furthering that “compelling interest.” Typical “compelling interests” of government include prohibiting discrimination against individuals.

RFRA protects the rights of everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

In other words, not only can the Christian owners of a bakery refuse to write an inscription on the wedding cake of a gay couple, but the black owners of a T-shirt business don't have to print the KKK's burning crosses on shirts, and Jewish owners of a gift shop don't have to put Nazi symbols on coffee cups.

Everyone has equal rights, or no one does.

Editor's note: This article includes Utah as having an RFRA, when it is still pending. Here is a full list of the statuses of all state RFRAs.

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