Indiana is a state in America in which tensions arose and sparks flew when the governor, Gov. Mike Pence initially signed the Senate Bill 101: Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26, 2015.
Why tensions and sparks? That’s a good question.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) basically provides that a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is:
(1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.
It further provides that a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a state or local government action may assert the burden as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding. It also entitles such person to obtain appropriate relief, including: (1) injunctive relief; (2) declaratory relief; (3) compensatory damages; and (4) recovery of court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
What’s wrong with that you might ask? Still not enough reason for tensions and sparks. I agree. However the bane of the public outcry against the law has to do with Chapter 9 of the RFRA itself.
Chapter 9 defines what “burden” is. Simply put, it refers to any action that directly or indirectly constrains or denies a person the right to exercise his/her religion OR that compels a person to do any act that is contrary to the exercise of his/her religion. For example Alice is of XYZ religion and her religion prohibits her from doing ABC. Now if a local/state government action requires the doing of ABC, the RFRA allows Alice to legally refuse to do ABC because her religion prohibits it (except in instances of the aforementioned exceptions).
Chapter 9 also entitles a person to withhold a benefit from another based on religious beliefs. Read here for more information: http://rfraperils.com/indiana/ This particularly deals with businesses and this is the part of the law that the protesters didn’t appreciate. The protesters of the law argue that it would give business owners (particularly Christian business owners) the legal backing to refuse to offer business services to persons of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. How? For a better understanding, let me create a scenario that a Christian in Indiana would likely face and for which the law can be validly invoked.
Let’s say Alice is a Christian living in Indiana and she owns a bakery and confectionery which she established with the money her father left for her after his death. So she bakes cakes, pastries etc. Then one fine Saturday afternoon after delivering a cake for a birthday party, Alice is behind the counter at her bakery going over her accounts. In walk George and Sam hand in hand, grinning from ear to ear. George and Sam are a recently engaged gay couple looking to see if Alice can bake their wedding cake. So Alice welcomes them, grabs her note pad and pen and asks how she can help. As they explain who they are and why they’re in her shop, Alice realizes that this is one gig she would have to refuse based on her faith. So when they finish, Alice smiles and politely informs them that unfortunately her bakery would be unable to offer its services to them for their wedding. They look disappointed so she offers them two cupcakes to-go and wishes them the best as she discreetly slips two tracts into the to-go bag she packed for them. They collect it, thank her and leave. Alice returns to the counter, says a quick prayer for George and Sam and resumes reviewing her accounts.
The RFRA legally allows Alice and every business owner of any religion across Indiana to validly refuse to offer business services that would amount to burdening them i.e. constraining or denying their right to exercise their religion OR making them do anything contrary to their religion. What is wrong with that? Why shouldn’t they be able to do that? Every business owner is entitled to run their business as they see fit as long as they operate within the confines of law and do not engage in illegality. If any business owner decides to run his/her business in accordance with the tenets of his/her faith whilst in the confines of state laws, why shouldn’t he/she be able to do so?
After Gov. Mike Pence signed the law, protesters took to the streets of Indiana with placards and megaphones, calling for the law to be amended or repealed. Certain companies and organizations in support of the LGBT community threatened to take their businesses away from Indiana. Some conferences scheduled to hold in Indiana were moved to other “tolerant” states. The Mayor of Indianapolis in Indiana reportedly said “…the RFRA sends the wrong signal.” Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Inc., reportedly said he was “…deeply disappointed” in the law. The ensuing public outcry was deafening and Gov. Mike Pence’s approval ratings dipped.
Consequently, on the 2nd of April 2015, a proposal was announced by the Senate President and a member of the House to provide protection for LGBT customers, tenants and employees and this change was met with positive reactions. This amendment was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence in the late afternoon of the same day. In a nutshell the amendment adds “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the list of bases for which a provider is not authorized to refuse to offer services. This list includes other bases like race, sex, color etc. Therefore, in Indiana today, our friend Alice in the example above cannot refuse to bake George and Sam’s wedding cake. If she does, George and Sam may actually be able to take legal action against her for discrimination. This is because although Alice is being burdened as Chapter 9 of the RFRA clearly defines, the amendment to the RFRA basically does not care for this nature of Alice’s burden.
When I tweeted my support for the initial version of the RFRA, a friend of mine called me and argued vehemently against my stance using “the state should be seperate from religion” as the threshold for his argument. I agree. The State should seperate itself from every and any religion. However, that’s not what this is about. This is about individuals being required to an extent to seperate themselves from their religious beliefs or the tenets of their faith over businesses that they built with their own hands. This is about taking away Alice’s right to politely decline to offer her bakery’s services to George and Sam. This is about a self-proclaimed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that in itself inhibits the exercise of religious freedom.
Some people believe that your faith or religion can and should be tucked away in day to day decision making or living generally. It’s why sometimes even when your opinion is asked it’s usually preceeded by phrases like “…forget Christianity“. However, I believe that though it can be tucked away, it really shouldn’t. Many times, I “forget Christianity“. I’ve asked people to forget it too. But isn’t it meant to be the entirety of who you are, what you believe in and the ideals and notions you embody? Shouldn’t it come across in your interactions and be evident in your character? Why can’t it guide how you run your business?
I am not from Indiana nor do I own a business there and so this law does not directly or indirectly impact my life (yet). However, this sound off is an exercise of my right to freedom of opinion and expression which is a universally guaranteed right contained in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Nigeria is a party and against which there is neither public outcry nor have protesters taken to the streets. For this I am beyond grateful.
-Thanks for stopping by.