Please Don’t “Fix” RFRAs

Please Don’t “Fix” RFRAs

2015 | Week of April 6 – #1092

Unless you’ve truly been totally immersed in Easter preparations and celebrations and college playoff basketball, then you likely know that about two weeks ago, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA into law in that state. Immediately, the liberal progressive juggernaut turned on the after-burners and flew into a highly emotional but very effective rage, threatening to take business and tourism away from Indiana.

With all the bullying and intimidation, Republican Governor Pence caved. Late last Thursday, he signed into law what has become known as a “fix” for the RFRA. From my perspective and that of experts on this subject, this was no “fix,” unless you are meaning “fix” as “We took our dog to the vet and got him fixed.” If that’s how you’re using the term, then I might agree. The so-called “fix” at best neutered Indiana’s RFRA and at worst may have made it even worse for Christians in business in that state.

First a reality-check that gets past the hysteria. State RFRAs don’t give rights to anyone. They basically say the government cannot substantially burden a person’s constitutional right to religious freedom unless the government can show a compelling interest to do so and uses the least restrictive means to support that interest. It would be nice if the federal RFRA applied to the states, but it doesn’t, per a 1997 US Supreme Court case. So that’s why the individual states need to pass similar language.

Contrary to those who say otherwise, RFRAs don’t guarantee anyone any certain outcome; they just give people who believe their religious freedom has been violated a defense in court. That said, in the 20 plus years of both the federal and state RFRAs, we’ve seen no massive explosion of discrimination cases. RFRAs are excellent companions to the First Amendment, ensuring that the right standard of proof is used when dealing with government intruding upon our religious freedom.

That’s what Governor Pence originally signed into law. That’s what he supposedly “fixed” when the financial, entertainment, and sports-world bullies showed up. His “fix” resulted in some business owners losing the right to assert the state’s RFRA law should they be hauled into court as Exhibit A as the chief of discriminators, haters and bigots.

Constitutional expert Attorney Jordan Lorence explains that, “The Indiana ‘fix’…prohibit[s] business owners from invoking their rights under the Indiana RFRA when someone sues the business for discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc.”  Lorence goes on to say, “No one explained why every application of a nondiscrimination law should always prevail over a claim of religious conscience. Surely, the factual context of what happened in a particular case, what exactly was the charge of discrimination, and what religious belief the defendant asserts would make a difference as to who should prevail.”[1] Lorence nailed it.

So Governor Pence—who is also on the list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates—“fixed” his state’s RFRA. He neutered its ability to help those most likely to need it. Other than companies such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products, most businesses that have come under fire for the religious beliefs of the owners have been small, very small—photographers, florists, bakers and others that as a part of their business, service the wedding industry. Tragically, he just threw these people under the bus to salvage the bigger companies who were threatening to take their business elsewhere.

The Governor’s “fix” did make exemptions for churches and religious organizations. And that bothers me too. That type of exemption just reinforces that we as Christians aren’t supposed to take our faith into the public arena. We aren’t supposed to operate our businesses following biblical principles.  We can have our faith—but it must be contained to our churches and to places the law has deemed to be “religious.” That’s freedom of worship; that’s not First Amendment Freedom of Religion.

Pence is gambling that no one in Indiana will misuse his “fix.” I sincerely hope he’s right. The ever-growing number of businesses under fire nationwide tells me he’ll very likely be proven wrong. Here’s a message to Governor Pence and any others in a similar situation with a RFRA law. Leave “fixing” to veterinarians.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”



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