Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Matters,  No Matter Your Sexual Orientation

AP

Even though Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act seems to be all about gay rights, it’s worth keeping an eye on, regardless of your sexual orientation.

To understand why, read what 1 Timothy 2:11- 12 and 15 says about women for example.

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet,” the apostle Paul wrote to his student, Timothy. “But a woman will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

If you think those verses are simply the Bible’s way of saying a woman’s place is with her home and children, then consider this scenario: suppose a woman is up for a job that would have her supervising men?  Under the present version of  Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA, could an employer successfully  claim religious belief as the reason for giving the position to a man? Or could a male employee refuse to follow a female supervisor’s instruction because the Bible says women shouldn’t tell men what to do?



There’s a big question there, “admits Jessie Hill, who is a professor of law and associate dean at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  She notes questions on the government’s need to ensure gender equality are less settled than questions of race discrimination.

“If the employer were to say, ‘Despite the fact that you’re the most qualified person, I get an exemption from the gender discrimination laws because my religious beliefs dictate it, then the government has to show it has a compelling interest in (maintaining gender equality) ,” she says.  “The Supreme Court has never come out and said that (maintaining gender equality) would trump the religious claim.”

The gray area of RFRA’s impact on all discrimination or equality issues has been largely ignored in the furor around Indiana’s law. Both supporters and opponents have framed the issue in terms of gay rights and marriage equality.

Advance America, one of Indiana’s most influential conservative organizations, supports Indiana’s RFRA because it  “will help protect individuals, Christian businesses and churches (sic)  from those supporting homosexual marriages and those supporting government recognition and approval of gender identity (male cross-dressers). “(The bold text taken from the group’s website)

The New York Times used that same blog post in an editorial excoriating the law for using religion as a cover for bigotry. ”

Even new legislation handed to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday addresses gay rights. The bill  “would specify that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against residents based on their sexual orientation,” the Indianapolis Star reports.  But the bill stops short of establishing sexual orientation as a protected class, like race, color, religion or ethnic identity.

That so-called clarification has come after businesses and corporations excoriated Indiana for its new stance.  Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who is openly gay, outlined his disapproval for the Washington Post.  Angie’s List, a national referral service for home maintenance companies, abruptly canceled the $40 million expansion of its expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters.

Supporters fired back by claiming the federal government and other states have religious freedom laws.  The federal version was passed in 1993, in a response to cases such on a ruling upholding the firing of two Native American workers who tested positive for drug used peyote in a cultural religious ceremony.  States began passing their own laws in 1997, after the US Supreme Court decided the federal law didn’t apply to them.

Even though the federal  law got bi-partisan support, Hill says. But civil liberties and civil rights groups began to back away from the bill.

“All of a sudden they realized this was potentially a license to discriminate, “ Hill says.

However Indiana’s law is more expansive than state and federal laws. It allows individuals, organizations and for-profit  groups to claim the religious exemption, and  use RFRA as a defense if against if a person sues them.

The broad language is why 30 legal scholars sent a letter opposing the law to Indiana Rep. Ed Delaney.  They worried the confusion over the law will cause a flood of lawsuits.

“This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners , or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so. Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or a police officer’s private religious beliefs.”

That prediction has already come to pass. Owners of a pizza parlor in Walkerton, IN, near South Bend, told a reporter they would not cater a same-sex  or even a non-Christian wedding – because their religion beliefs would not let them.

 



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