Back in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law. The law says that the government cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." In other words, under the RFRA, if a person has sincere religious objections to a law, then he or she can challenge it in court. Today, 21 states have passed similar laws. With all this in mind, it seems hard to object to what Indiana is doing, at least from a legal standpoint. Some have even gone as to say that Indiana’s law is basically the same as the OB (“original bill,” for those not hip to today’s legal lingo), and that objections are ill-founded.
But if that were the case, then there wouldn’t be this huge backlash. Indiana’s RFRA is quite different. The most notable difference between the two is that every other RFRA only covers disputes between an individual or group and the government, whereas the Indiana law extends this right to object to disputes between private citizens. And by citizens, I don’t just mean actual people; the law can extend to any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, and what have you. This broadens the scope of the law immensely, and ultimately means that any individual or group can deny service to certain people on religious grounds.
The Indiana law is a solution in search of a problem. Even if we take possible discrimination out the equation, its still a law that addresses an issue that’s practically non-existent. The citizens of Indiana never really had their religious rights attacked. I could understand the need for such a law if there were precedent, but at the moment, this law seems to create more problems than it solves. It allows businesses to deny services to certain customers (not just gays, but also potentially Jews, Muslims, and even Christians), and it allows those businesses to hide behind religious freedom as justification.
I don’t hate religious freedom. I think the ability to practice your religion of choice without government interference is an important civil right. But using religion as an excuse to not treat all people equally is not exercising religious freedom; that’s discrimination. While I’m all for protecting religious rights, I also think its important to protect general civil rights. And its not like you can’t do both; the original RFRA does so. As it stands, the Indiana law aims to protect religious rights by allowing others to violate the civil rights of people they don’t like. Essentially, we have a law that prioritizes religious rights over some people’s civil rights, which is not something you should be proud over.
I’m so glad the Indiana law got this much backlash. A law like this has no place in modern America. Hopefully the bill will be replaced with something more sensible.