Indiana argues over religious freedom act

By: Steven Goodman

Our neighbor, Indiana, has been at the forefront of all media lately. First, for pushing into law an act that many have claimed will enable discrimination against the LGBT community. And it showed up again when Gov. Mike Pence demanded legislation amending the law be on his desk after he had publicly stated that he would not change it at all.

Officially known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it began with (what I assume were) good intentions: The government of Indiana cannot “substantially burden” an individual’s right to follow his or her religious beliefs. Of course, this statement is also followed by the idea that it can do just that if the government “can prove a compelling interest…or do so in the least restrictive way,” according to USA Today.

As with most bills, the vague language means what this act can do is actually under debate. Some say it will allow businesses to discriminate and/or refuse service to those who identify as LGBT. Whereas the other side, where Gov. Pence stood at first, claims the bill allows for no discrimination whatsoever.

Well, it does.

There are people, including some extremely vocal individuals from Indiana, whose religious beliefs condemn homosexuality as wrong or as sinful. The standalone bill, in its first form, allows every business person with this viewpoint to refuse service to someone living a lifestyle considered sinful. Unless, of course, the government can prove a compelling interest to stop this. But then the argument of Indiana’s government stepping on the toes of those practicing their religion would be raised.

One would think the easiest way to stop this would be to include some sort of anti-discrimination clause. Maybe something as simple as “you can practice your religious beliefs freely unless it involves the discrimination of an entire group of people.” It is 2015, after all. I cannot believe there are people openly condemning an entire community.

Luckily though, Gov. Pence backtracked on his previous statements and asked for language explicitly saying that a business may not refuse service to anyone. He claims it came from “much reflection,” but he is still stating that this law “does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay or lesbian couples.”

I see that as one of the biggest problems with this law: the language can be debated. The way this act was worded should have been crystal clear from the absolute beginning. I still find it disturbing that Gov. Pence will not even acknowledge the argument that the law allows for discrimination; instead, he blames “very sloppy reporting.”

I’m glad that Gov. Pence agreed to amend this act, regardless of his reasoning, to make it crystal clear that religious beliefs are not grounds for discriminating against a group of people. However, I also agree with what many LGBT rights groups have said: This is just one small, albeit still significant, step in the right direction toward eventually creating a nationwide nondiscrimination law.