When it Comes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Bill and Hillary Clinton Might Disagree

There’s been no shortage of outrage, boycotts and condemnations of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which critics claim has nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with a license for businesses to discriminate against gays and same-sex couples.

Interestingly, the Indiana law is based on a federal law passed in 1993 also called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 1993 RFRA was passed by a Democrat Party majority Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

At the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Clinton delivered inspirational words about religious freedom:

“We all have a shared desire here to protect perhaps the most precious of all American liberties, religious freedom.

Usually the signing of legislation by a President is a ministerial act, often a quiet ending to a turbulent legislative process.

Today this event assumes a more majestic quality because of our ability together to affirm the historic role that people of faith have played in the history of this country and the constitutional protections those who profess and express their faith have always demanded and cherished.”

President Clinton went on to describe the climate that brought on the 1993 RFRA:

“More than 50 cases have been decided against individuals making religious claims against Government action since that decision was handed down.

This act will help to reverse that trend by honoring the principle that our laws and institutions should not impede or hinder but rather should protect and preserve fundamental religious liberties.”

He staunchly defended the American people’s right to exercise their religion against laws that would infringe on that right:

“As many of you know, I have been quite moved by Stephen Carter’s book, ‘The Culture of Disbelief.’

He makes a compelling case that today Americans of all political persuasions and all regions have created a climate in this country in which some people believe that they are embarrassed to say that they advocate a course of action simply because they believe it is the right thing to do, because they believe it is dictated by their faith, by what they discern to be, with their best efforts, the will of God.”

Meanwhile, on March 26, 2015, Hillary Clinton tweeted her disdain for the Indiana law that was modeled after her husband’s 1993 legislation:

Critics of the new law argue that Indiana’s RFRA has additional elements not included in the 1993 Federal RFRA and the 19 other states with similar laws.

The Atlantic compared the texts of the two laws, pointing out their differences:

  1. The Indiana law allows for-profit businesses to have “the free exercise of religion.” The phrase is not included any other RFRAs, except South Carolina. Louisiana and Pennsylvania specifically exclude for-profit businesses.
  2. Indiana’s law then goes a step farther, allowing for businesses to use “the free exercise of religion” as a defense against a lawsuit by a private person. Other RFRAs allow only for a defense against the government.

The reason for the addition, according to The Atlantic, is to prevent a court case similar to one in New Mexico:

[The] legislation was impelled, at least in part, by a panic over a New Mexico state-court decision, Elane Photography v. Willock. In that case, a same-sex couple sued a professional photography studio that refused to photograph the couple’s wedding.

In the New Mexico case, the RFRA didn’t prevent the lawsuit like the photography studio hoped. New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that because the suit took place between private individuals, it could go to court — no government entity infringing on religious rights meant fair game.

Governor Mike Pence has already signed the RFRA into law, but he stated that he supported a clarification on the language in the bill. Republican lawmakers plan to speak publicly and explain the intent of the law.

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