(Illustration by Veronica Pahomova)
Beverly Hills High School

Religious Freedom and Restoration Act: Supporting freedom or discrimination?

On Thursday, March 26, 2015, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into Indiana law the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

The exact text of the law says this: “…prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.”

Essentially, the meaning behind this legislative jargon is this: the government is not allowed to interfere with a person’s exercise of religion (privately or publically), unless the exercise goes directly against government interest.

The law garnered stern and overwhelming backlash across the nation, with many deeming the act discriminatory against gay and lesbians due to the fact that it gives religious business owners the right under law to refuse services to someone solely due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and not face judgement in court because their exercise doesn’t go against government interest.

The reason that this exercise of religion doesn’t go against government interest? Gays and lesbians are not a protected class under the Indiana state constitution.

The Act has become so controversial that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard signed an executive order that requires anyone doing business with the city of Indianapolis to abide by the city’s human rights ordinance.

“Indianapolis will not be defined by [this law]. Indianapolis welcomes everybody,” Ballard said in a press conference.

CEO Bill Oesterle of Angie’s List, a corporation headquartered in Indiana, canceled his proposal for a $40 million expansion that would have brought 1,000 jobs to Indiana because of his open disapproval for the RFRA.

“Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none,” Oesterle said in a news release. “And we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.”

CEO of Apple Inc. Tim Cook also took a stance against the Act, writing a column for The Washington Post declaring RFRA “dangerous.” Cook is an openly gay man.

“Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love,” Cook wrote.

One step forward

In response to the widespread and concentrated backlash against the Act, lawmakers in Indiana amended it, adding that “this chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

The amendment was a direct response to the widespread backlash, and it was signed into law by Gov. Pence on Thursday, April 2, 2015, one week after the original act was signed, despite Pence’s backing of the original, controversial bill.

Where are we now?

At this point, neither those pro-RFRA nor those anti-RFRA seem to be happy, and who’s to blame them? Like a sugar-loving toddler, devoutly religious business owners and RFRA supporters were handed by Indiana legislators a bright pink swirly lollipop (the RFRA Act), and just before they could take a big lick, gay rights and anti-RFRA activists took it away from them, or rather, unsweetened it.

And those anti-RFRA activists? They aren’t happy with just unsweetening the lollipop, they want to repeal RFRA altogether, as well as have gays and lesbians be made a protected class under Indiana law. Lets call it, taking all the candy from the baby?

What does it all mean?

As far as religious freedom goes, we as a nation seem to be pretty close to where we were before all this RFRA havoc began. While religious freedom is incredibly important and a main staple in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill Of Rights, the argument was made and won by those who say that one person’s or business’s right to religion can not come at the cost of another’s civil rights.

Indiana Rep. Ed DeLaney spoke against the law during a rally against the Act.

“This law does not openly allow discrimination, no, but what it does is create a road map, a path to discrimination,” DeLaney said.

DeLaney was right, and while this path seems to have been cut off, the road of discrimination is still very alive.

As far as the fight for gay rights goes, the road map has broadened into many different paths, and the future of gay rights comes down to which one is taken.