By: Joshua Tijerina
The first time something happens it is certainly OK to speculate about the outcome and the consequences. This is pretty normal, and is actually quite wise. The second time something happens the question is always: Was the first time a fluke? Will the second time result in a different outcome? By the third time something happens you have enough data to start to prove a point.
Last week, Gov. Mike Pence signed a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that set off a firestorm of angry tirades about how LGBT citizens would be refused service, but what they are not mentioning is that Indiana, the state which Mike Pence governs, is the 20th state to enact such a law. This number, of course, does not include the federal RFRA passed in 1993, and signed into law by President Clinton.
This number also does not include Arkansas, where lawmakers approved a RFRA today. It is on its way to Gov. Hutchinson’s desk now. So, if three instances were enough to establish a pattern, then a logical person would assume that 21 instances would certainly offer proof of the consequences LGBT might face. So, in 22 years under RFRA, how many people have successfully asserted a RFRA defense for excluding LGBT from services? Well . . . zero.
So, what in the world are the RFRA opponents screaming about?
First, opponents of religious freedom argue that the RFRA is “anti-gay.” Well, we already know (and I’ll state again) that after 22 years and 19 states with similar laws this has NEVER happened. But more to the point, let’s actually look at the language of the law itself, which you can download here. The language for Arkansas’ RFRA can be found here.
Go ahead, run your search function through the text of the bills. I’ll wait.
Finished? You see there is never a reference to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, etc. The RFRAs are not about LGBT issues. They are about religious freedom, and protecting the free practice thereof. This is, perhaps, best described by President Clinton:
"What this law basically says is that the Government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion. This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never, we can never be too vigilant in this work."
(Check out President Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore’s speech in support of the federal RFRA here.) And, again, just in case the third time’s the charm, a RFRA has never successfully been used as a defense to discriminate against LGBT. It has, however, successfully been used to protect people of all faith’s freedom to practice their religious beliefs, which is exactly the point.
Second, opponents of religious freedom argue that RFRAs are partisan. Indiana’s Senate Democratic Leader released a statement regarding the RFRA that referred to Gov. Pence and the bills supporters as “he and the Republicans.” Others have asserted the upcoming GOP race will be embroiled with the “controversy” of the law. Apparently, present-day democrats are different versions of themselves, because a whole slew of them supported RFRA throughout the years--and by supported I mean voted for or championed them:
- Senator Ted Kennedy and now Vice President Joe Biden introduced and voted for Federal RFRA in the Senate,
- while Representative Charles Schumer introduced and voted for RFRA in the House, supported by the entire Democratic caucus, including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
- And former President Bill Clinton signed it into law.
- President Obama voted for Illinois’ RFRA . . . twice.
- Hillary Clinton, who openly railed against the new Indiana law, perhaps should reflect on her husband’s words “we all have a shared desire . . . to protect, perhaps, the most precious of all American liberties, religious freedom.”
- Moreover, the diversity of groups that supported the federal RFRA, 68 according to then Vice-President Al Gore, included the ACLU. Vice-President Gore states that the groups “usually don’t agree on very much, but [these] groups have come together to support religious freedom.”
Historically, RFRAs have never been divisive, or considered as such. In fact, as shown herein, RFRAs have forged unlikely alliances due to the importance of religious freedom in our country.
Last, opponents of religious freedom argue that the idea that people of faith are being discriminated against is “a bogus argument.” This is actually the most interesting of the arguments made. Never has a RFRA been a successful tool used to discriminate against LGBT citizens (yes, a fourth reference to the fact), but time and again people of faith have been discriminated against for holding true to the tenets of their faith. Each has faced penalties: losing their business, losing a job, fines, personal attacks, and the threat of losing a home.
Don’t believe me? Here are their names, each linked to their case and personal story: Barronelle Stutzman, Elaine Hugenin, Blaine Adamson, and Jack Phillips . Please take a moment to read their stories, because while opponents of Indiana’s RFRA make fictitious claims about discrimination, the discrimination against these people of faith, who gladly serve all customers regardless of their race, sex, or sexual orientation, is very real. Need more proof that people of faith need protection for their religious freedom? Also consider the story of the Hahn Family, whose religious liberty was recently protected by federal RFRA.
Indiana’s RFRA, and the 19 other states that enacted similar laws before it, were created to protect “our first freedom,” religious freedom. President Clinton rightly concludes, “Religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive." The same day that President Clinton uttered those words; Vice-President Al Gore stated, “The fact is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is something that all Americans can support.” That was true in 1993. It is still true today.
Stand with, and defend, Indiana and Arkansas as they defend your “first freedom.”
- Share the image above by clicking here: Facebook and Twitter, to show your support for religious freedom.
- Take the next step, and send an email or call those facing attacks to thank them for their stand, and encourage them:
- Indiana Governor, Mike Akin Pence: (317) 232-4567, MPENCE@state.in.us
- Indiana Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma: (317) 232-9677, H88@iga.in.gov
- Indiana Senate President, David Long: (317) 232-9416, Senator.Long@iga.in.gov
Questions about RFRAs? Ask them in the comments below, and we'll respond as rapidly as we can.
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