Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration bill into law on March 26. The bill follows the lead of 19 other states and has been condemned by celebrities, businesses and politicians for its seemingly anti-gay rhetoric.
The bill was intended to protect the rights of the citizens of Indiana by ensuring that they do not have to serve or interact with people that do not follow their religious doctrine, and while it makes no mention of LGBT people specifically, it is broad enough to include the population upon interpretation.
Amid backlash, Pence has denied claims that the law is acting in favor of discrimination towards LGBT people. He remains firm about supporting the law, but has said that he is open to editing the text so that it does not enable discrimination.
Many LGBT supporters believe that this response is too little, too late especially considering Arizona was faced with backlash for a similar bill in 2014, though it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer.
The Supreme Court’s decision regarding Hobby Lobby is similar. The popular retail arts and crafts chain argued that they should be able to refuse their employees insurance coverage for birth control, and the Supreme Court ruled that they had the right to do so under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which is not as broad as Indiana’s new law.
One of the most striking parts of Indiana’s bill lies in the definition of “exercise of religion,” since Chapter 9, Section 5 of the bill states that this phrase covers any religion, whether or not it is official or organized. This means that under this law, any person can discriminate on the basis of freedom of religion, even if they are not acting in line with an organized religion.
Conservatives may argue that they are protecting the rights of Christians, but how can the law justify the discrimination of one group over the rights of another?
It appears to me that this law was passed under the guise of religious freedom, but is actually used as a vehicle for the legalization of discrimination.
Many cities, including Washington, D.C., have local nondiscrimination laws, but Indiana does not. Thus, opponents of the law fear that gays and lesbians will be discriminated against in places of employment, housing and education, and justifiably so.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only 18 states have statewide employment non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, while two states have statewide employment non-discrimination laws that cover only sexual orientation, not gender identity.
States without anti-discrimination laws, such as Indiana, could then walk a fine line between freedom of religion and discrimination because there are not any civil rights laws that could protect LGBT people across the state.
Despite this backlash, lawmakers in Arkansas sent a similar bill to Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 30. Hutchinson paid attention to the cries of the people, however, as he vetoed the bill and sent it back to the state legislature for revisions. He declared that he wants Arkansas "to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance," according to CNN.com.
Many businesses have taken steps in the same direction.
The coaches of this year’s NCAA Final Four playoffs released a statement Wednesday slamming the controversial law. NBA stars, the WNBA, NASCAR and other major corporate entities also declared their opposition to the law. Similarly, Connecticut took a stance, banning all state-funded travel to Indiana.
The national public outcry against the law has proven that the American people will not stand by as lawmakers attempt to use their positions in power to endorse their religious beliefs. We can only hope that the movement for nondiscrimination laws continues to expand across states.