The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was approved by the Republican controlled legislature and signed by the Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The act allows businesses in the state to mention religious complaints to refuse service to people based upon their sexual orientation.
Congress and twenty other states have formerly passed similar legislation. Among these states, Tennessee, but other states are starting to reform their policies that are a little less strict—following Indiana’s lead. Arkansas is an example of this, with their governor also signing a similar religious freedom bill.
Assistant Director of the Women’s Studies department at East Tennessee State University, Hilary Malatino PhD., says that she thinks it is important to realize that it is not just Indiana that has laws like this on the books.
Malatino says, “The conservatives might start viewing things like the RFRA as an effective tool to construct some type of political backlash against marriage equality, which I think is probably eminent on the national level. I also think it could be a really strong mobilizing tool to get people to engage in political activism beyond marriage equality.”
Cranberries is a local restaurant in Johnson City, Tennessee that is owned by Ruth Taylor Read and her husband. Ruth is a woman’s advocate and a long-time community activist.
Read says that she believes no religion should be used to allow people to discriminate. According to Read, the United States was “based on basic tenants of freedom, where religion is, and that is one of the basic tenants of religion.” It is the freedom to worship as one truly pleases, and the freedom to be allowed to worship in the way that one wants to.
When one discusses the topic of how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is positive or negative one has to be aware that other lawmakers are watching what their cohorts are doing. So if they think it can happen in one state, it could be duplicated in theirs.
Indiana has signed, sealed and delivered the RFRA and since then Georgia as well as Arkansas have put more affective, what the people are calling, “discrimination” laws into effect.
“I cannot see that this could help anyone. Except for those who are interested to win some sort of power struggle,” Read says sitting back into her chair. “It is important to some on city levels and state levels and federal levels to maintain that hierarchy we are all familiar with.”
Democrats believe the vote to be pushed through committee, but the bill had overwhelming support on the Senate floor, where it passed 37-15, while still understanding the scope of the RFRA that recently passed in Indiana. Other jurisdictions, on the other hand, begin with an assessment of whom it applies to.
Ashley Crowe, a long time community activist and currently an English teacher in South Korea, keeps up with the media and says that she worries about the implications of the RFRA that was just passed in Indiana as well as the LGBTQ community could possibly be refused housing or jobs based on someone’s religious views.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, in unveiling the revised law, said it would “unequivocally state that Indiana’s (religious from) law does not and will not be able to discriminate against anyone, anywhere at any time.”
What the Religious Freedom Restoration Act means is that for the first time a law will include the language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” specifically singling out people.
In an article about Indiana’s discrimination laws, former Indianapolis mayor and Democrat Bart Peterson said the words gender identity and sexual orientation will appear in state law in context of anti-discrimination for first time.
The extension of the federal RFRA protections to closely held for profit corporations by the US Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in 2014. To the extent that large corporations and other businesses are comprised of individuals, reasoned the Court that they can exercise religious beliefs much like any “normal” person would.
Exercising ones religion includes any form of exercise “whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system or religious belief.” Direct infringements on ones exercise of religion are easy to interpret.
The bills, like the one in Arkansas, drew protests from huge corporations like Wal-Mart, Apple, LGBTQ rights and other liberal advocacy groups.
Apparently, Arkansas’s Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign the amendment until it was edited to remove language-extending protections to corporations. Indiana’s Gov. Pence initially defended his decision to sign the amendment before asking the legislature to add any anti-discrimination language.
Indiana’s Gov. Pence is now starting to face a major repercussion from the law says that he is backing the effort to “clarify the intent” of the statute while admitting shock and awe over the unfriendliness it has ignited since the RFRA. Ending discrimination against gay and transgender people is apparently starting to become a fascinating government interest.
The disconcerting issue with the RFRA is that it could force the courts to weigh in on whether individuals who feel their religious right is troubled by helping a member of the LGBTQ community undermines the rights of others to be unrestricted from bias.
Regardless if Indiana ever decides to invoke an RFRA claim to protect their religious liberties from being laden by aiding members of the LGBTQ community. Gay and transgender people who live in communities that lack human rights regulations that provide enforceable defenses against discrimination are particularly vulnerable.
Dr. Malatino also made a statement about the affects of gay marriage, but more on how it occasionally outshines other concerns.
“Obviously gay marriage should be legal, but I also think that the way that the equality sort of movement—particularly marriage equality has determined the broader LGBTQ rights agenda—is problematic in terms that it shifted funding away from some more of the minoritized segments of queer populations and the way that it has made queer life into this single issue platform that re-inscribes monogamy.” She said.
Malatino also says that this re-inscribes class privilege to a certain extent as well. To clear things up, she says she is not against marriage, but that she definitely believes there is a lot more work that needs to be done politically other than just marriage equality.
A few cities in Indiana have nondiscrimination laws in effect, including Indianapolis. These laws protect specifically gays and lesbians in employment, housing, education and public accommodation, which include business transactions. However, in much of rural Indiana there is no safeguard whatsoever for them.
“I think we have already done our best to suppress those who are the weak, and down trodden and marginalized and I think it is sad that we do continue to do so. It is our fault, just like it is their fault. We allow those who share these views to outnumber us at the voting polls, and we allow those who share their views to consistently raise up candidates that would highlight progressive ways to pursue light, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” says Read about the discrimination laws in her local area.
Ruth Taylor Read believes that there is hope for all of those who become unsettled and uncomfortable about equality enough. So much so that she said she thinks that they will one day mobilize and become a collective power and become a force for those who are not used to having a voice.
Reconciling with America’s youth could be a difficult conversion for those making these “discrimination” laws. The Religious Freedom Reformation Act will go into effect on July 1. When this happens, businesses will be allowed to put signs up telling gays, lesbians, queers, etc. that they are not welcome in their establishment. Until then the LGBTQ community is permitted to live as hetero-normative as possible.