Indiana is the latest state to pass a so-called Religious Freedom Act, and they’re getting a lot of heat for it. Large conventions which bring a huge amount of money into the state have stated they’re considering pulling out. Corporations are canceling some activities and investments. Some corporate leaders have pointed out that bigotry like this law leads to an economic death spiral.
At the moment, Indiana’s governor is feeling heat because the law was clearly intended to give legal permission to people to discriminate against LGBT people, which he keeps denying. Because the fact that the bill was written by a notorious anti-gay activist, and is based on similar bills that have been promoted by the equally anti-gay Ethics and Public Policy Center, no one is believing the governor’s denial. It doesn’t help that he invited a bunch of notorious anti-gay activists to the private signing ceremony. (I’m kind of disappointed that it is even legal for a governor to have a private ceremony when he or she signs a public law into effect, you know?) But it’s worse than that…
Like the other bills, this one exempts people from facing penalties for action on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” That means if an employer can fire gay and lesbian people and claim it is because of their beliefs, but it also means that same employer can fire divorced people because his religion doesn’t approve of divorce. It means the employer can refuse to hire people because they don’t belong to the exact same church as he does. Or that the employer can decide to fire all the women in management positions because he doesn’t believe men should be subservient to women.
A cop can decide, because he has a sincere religious belief that a wife must submit to her husband, not to arrest a man for beating his wife. A paramedic can refuse to provide medical treatment to a person because his religious beliefs say he is to have nothing to do with unbelievers.
I can go on and on with examples, but I really want to hammer a nail into one of the arguments some people have started to put forward against boycotting events in Indiana. I’ve seen some of these people try to claim that 30 other states have similar laws, and no one is calling for boycotts there. That’s simply wrong. The people making this argument are claiming that any state which doesn’t include LGBT people in a general anti-discrimination law has the same legal situation as Indiana. That is not the same thing, at all. This goes beyond that, by a long shot.
There are about 19 states now that have one form or another of a broad religious liberty exemption. However, several of those also do have a LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination law, and generally the courts have allowed only the narrowest interpretations of the exemptions. At a minimum, having both the anti-discrimination law and a religious liberty law puts the target of the discrimination on a more equal footing. The courts have to weigh the two rights against each other.
But in Indiana, there is no anti-discrimination law. Before this law was passed, people faced little or no penalty for discriminating against LGBT people. I say little because frequently one can make a gender-discrimination argument in those jurisdictions that don’t have explicit LGBTQ protections. Or a marital-status argument, or equal-protection argument. But this law allows a person claiming their religious beliefs prevent them from doing business with or having contact with someone exemption from any “burden” from the government, at all.
Most of the people who are cheering for this law have freely admitted that they intend to use this against gays and lesbians. But all of those other consequences I mentioned above are legal in Indiana, now. And no amount of the governor claiming that there will be clarifications is going to stop bad things from happening.
Remember the case a few years ago of a lesbian couple traveling through Florida when one suffered a serious accident. The other member of the couple had her copy of her power of attorney and other documents, but she was turned away at the hospital, not allowed to see her dying partner, talk to the doctors, or give consent to medical treatment. Not because she wasn’t legally entitled to, but because a few hospital employees thought that Florida’s ban on gay marriage nullified all those other legal documents, as well (it didn’t). People take highly publicized law such as this as an endorsement of their person prejudices—not merely endorsement, but encouragement. So no matter what happens with this thing next, it means a bumpy ride for the next few years.
And I haven’t even gotten into what a twisted and illogical thing it is to claim that allowing someone who doesn’t live their life according to your beliefs to do things like buy food in your store, or buy a house in your neighborhood, or fall in love in your community, or work at the same workplace as you, prevents you from practicing your religion.
I don’t know how many times we have to repeat it! Forcing everyone else to abide by your religious beliefs, regardless of their own, is not religious freedom!