To find the words that describe with accuracy the media hysterics involved with Indiana’s passing of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) may be impossible. The sanctimonious moral preening offered via social media from such figures as Apple’s Tim Cook and the historically amnesiatic Hillary Clinton are both laughable and inexcusable for their dedication to spreading flavor-of-the-moment distortions.
Phrases like “License to discriminate” populate social media timelines. Internet memes showing separate water foundations for gays and straights harken back to the days of Jim Crow segregation.
Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is substantially the same as the federal RFRA and the RFRAs on the books in many other states—including ones like Connecticut. What passed last week is a bill nearly identical to a bill that state senator Barack Obama voted for when he was in the Illinois legislature.
All that a Religious Freedom Restoration Act does is initiate a balancing test when a private citizen feels that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the federal government. It provides extra level of strict scrutiny protection by requiring the government to demonstrate a compelling government interest for violating someone’s religious liberty, and requires the infringement to be done in the least restrictive means. Yes, it contains an extra provision that helps adjudicate matters between the government and the aggrieved party, but also between private parties. RFRA ensures that religious liberty is taken seriously in such cases. It does not mean that it will prevail. If the RFRA is good and helpful in cases arising between the government and private individuals, it is as well in cases between private individuals. If people oppose the Indiana statute over its difference from the federal law, they ought simply to oppose both—a radical position indeed.
Calls for boycotting Indiana after its legislature signed a bill virtually identical to what was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton indicates that we’ve reached a new day for religious liberty. The myth that religious liberty can meaningfully exist in any historic sense of the term alongside gay marriage has now been debunked.
According to the Republican signatories of a recent amicus brief, the fourteenth amendment requires that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples. At the same time, many of these individuals affirm the importance of religious liberty. But robust religious liberty protections will go to the wayside as the legal balance tips in favor of sexual liberty.
You can’t have it both ways. It is impossible to will a world where religious liberty is protected while endorsing a jurisprudence that describes opposition to gay marriage as animus. One side’s vision of public morality will win out. Conservatives and Republicans who think that religious liberty can exist in a world with same-sex marriage should be disabused of such utopic foolishness after this week's shameful and dishonest attempts by the media to quash Indiana's religious freedom bill. That’s the future of the debate about religious liberty in America.
Yes, Indiana passed such measure, and other states like Georgia and Arkansas may follow. But the opposition grows louder and louder, and the courage required of statesmen to stand becomes costlier by the week. All democratically enacted measures can be undone by democratically-enacted countermeasures.
For the time being, states with RFRAs are making the right move to protect religious liberty. Indiana’s Governor Pence should be commended, but until our culture’s citizens renew their commitment to marriage and public sentiment recognizes the incompatibility of religious liberty and sexual revolution and acts on such incompatibilities, such legislative protections may prove to be merely provisional unless we have a culture in tow.
Andrew Walker is Director of Policy Studies at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a PhD student in Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Image adapted from Alliance Defending Freedom.