We’re all talking and blogging and tweeting and posting on Facebook about Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s “religious freedom” law – the law that, unlike other laws of a similar stripe around the country, contains language specifically permitting businesses to discriminate against the non-heteros in our society based on the concept of “religious freedom.” Pence has been battered by the backlash – businesses are cancelling expansions, other states’ mayors and governors are prohibiting the use of funds for business travel to Indiana, conventions are pulling out, athletic associations – including NASCAR – are publicly opposing the law and some are weighing the likelihood of holding future events in Indiana. It’s like someone has a gun to Pence’s head; despite the horrors swirling around him and the state he rules, he’s holding fast to his support of this majorly creepy, bigoted law. On the talk show circuit, he’s blaming the backlash on a biased media, on Obamacare, on what he considers a fundamental misunderstanding by the public of what the law does.
There’s no misunderstanding; we know what the law does. That’s why we’re mad. And disgusted. And turning our backs on Indiana.
Pence is scrambling, saying he’s going to “fix” the law to clarify it. But what he isn’t going to do is build any anti-discrimination language into it. He’s made that clear. And the only “fix” of this particular law is a full repeal or language that clearly spells out that discriminatory behavior against the LGBT community is prohibited. But old Pence, he’s probably trying for a presidential run in 2016 on the GOP ticket – and as we all know, it’s a race to the bottom when it comes to social conservatives vying for the GOP nod.
Here’s what not to believe: That other states around the country – including Illinois – have passed the same exact laws that Indiana just passed, and that President Obama, as an Illinois senator, voted for the same exact law that Indiana just passed. As reported by Think Progress,
The Indiana law differs substantially from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Clinton in 1993, and all other state RFRAs.
There are several important differences in the Indiana bill but the most striking is Section 9. Under that section, a “person” (which under the law includes not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity) whose “exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened” can use the law as “a claim or defense… regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.”
Every other Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to disputes between a person or entity and a government. Indiana’s is the only law that explicitly applies to disputes between private citizens. This means it could be used as a cudgel by corporations to justify discrimination against individuals that might otherwise be protected under law. Indiana trial lawyer Matt Anderson, discussing this difference, writes that the Indiana law is “more broadly written than its federal and state predecessors” and opens up “the path of least resistance among its species to have a court adjudicate it in a manner that could ultimately be used to discriminate…”
Pence is on the stump whining about the “intolerance” of those of us who refuse to countenance intolerance. As Bob Cesca wrote,
On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Pence was asked eight times whether this law would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people — “yes or no.” Eight times in an 11-minute segment, and Pence refused to answer every time. By the sixth or seventh time, I expected Stephanopoulos to shout, “Don’t wait for the translation! Yes or no?”
Governor Mike Pence knew damn well that the law he signed could and would be used to discriminate. That’s why he did it under cover and refused to let the media anywhere near the big signing event. But it appears that he didn’t expect anyone to notice the differences in his state’s law versus similar laws in other states – namely, the anti-discrimination language inherent in many of the others, deliberately left out of Indiana’s. In fact, other states, Illinois, for instance, passed the law to prevent discrimination against individuals. Politifact noted,
The 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed by Clinton with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill passed the House unanimously and 97-3 in the Senate. The intent of the bill was to protect religious practices from government interference, such as whether a Muslim prison guard could wear a beard, or if a Jehovah’s Witness needed special coverage for medical procedures because he or she is against blood transfusions, or Native American religious practices . . . In 2004, Illinois lawmakers passed anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation for housing, employment, public accommodation, credit and other measures. Nine years later, the state passed a same-sex marriage law. These protections did not exist in the state when Obama cast his vote, but same-sex marriage was not part of the discussion as it is now, as it was not yet legalized . . . .
Businesses and athletes making public statements against Pence and Indiana is a great start, but more of them need to put their money where their mouths are. A clear, concise, and unequivocal message needs to be sent to other right-wing, bigotry-promoting states and governors and politicians that this America, this public, doesn’t dig these underhanded, mean-spirited maneuvers against our friends, loved ones, sisters, brothers, and all of the other people who comprise the LGBT community. The gay marriage “battle” should never have been a battle, but it was, and the right-wingers lost. We can’t permit them to go at it from another direction, and win.