Debate: Opposing the RFRA in Indiana

RFRA Debate picThe Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that has been causing a stir in Indiana and Louisiana, among other states, has its roots in a 1990 Supreme Court case in which a Native American man lost his job after testing positive for a drug. Alfred Smith, a resident of Oregon, used peyote (a hallucinogenic) as part of a religious ceremony and was fired from his job as a counselor at a drug rehabilitation clinic. When Smith applied for unemployment he was denied because his dismissal from work was deemed misconduct.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration signed the original RFRA, which holds that the government should act in the “least restrictive” way when dealing with religion, according to a 1993 New York Times article. Furthermore, the law professed that government could only act when it has a “compelling interest” in intervention.

Fast-forward 22 years and the Indiana legislature passed a similar measure that states “A governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” according to National Public Radio (NPR).

Where the Indiana law takes a turn for the worse is its definition of “person,” which the federal law left for interpretation. According to NPR, the Indy bill holds persons to include individuals, organizations, religious groups, partnerships, corporations, firms or any other entity that “may sue or be sued.”

This acknowledgement reopens the gash that was infected by the Hobby Lobby case. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit companies, “composed of individuals,” could prevent cost-free access to contraception if it runs against the religious principles of said company, according to Oyez.org, a Supreme Court archive hosted by Chicago-Kent College of Law.

The Hobby Lobby scenario, however, was a blessing compared to the Indiana bill, as the ruling was limited to guaranteed contraception. Interpretation of the Hoosier state legislation would allow for entities to refuse service to individuals who they view as acting contrary to their beliefs, on whatever grounds they feel necessary. This means that gay and lesbian couples, people of different faiths, or any number of grounds for prejudice could complicate individuals receiving services.

Even more startling is the law’s dismissal of government carrying the burden of compelling interest in restricting religious practice. Instead, according to NPR, the compelling interest rests with the “persons” defined earlier; meaning companies, religious groups or even individuals can make claims regarding a burden to their religious freedom without governmental interference.

As pundit Bill Maher argued on his HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher, this law stems from religious fundamentalism taken too far. “The reason fundamentalists are so stubbornly anti-gay is they truly believe that condoning homosexuality will bring on God’s wrath,” said Maher. While opposition to this law does not necessarily condone an indictment of strict religious adherence, there is some truth behind its opponents’ stance on religious fundamentalism.

Biblical literalism is the phenomenon whereby readers of the Bible read its word as true, without secondary interpretation. According to Leviticus 20:13, “The man also that lieth with the male, as one lieth with a woman, they have both committed abomination.” While this quite literally appears to cast aside homosexuals for biblical literalists, opponents of the RFRA would argue that this does not hold true to society in 2015. While attempting to avoid a religious debate, the Bible is by no means a blueprint for 2015 America.  

When all is said and done, the RFRA will cause more trouble than it is worth. Personal beliefs, whether religious or otherwise are not definitively measurable. No one can claim to be empirically more or less religious than anyone else. So the idea of allowing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom is abhorrent and a slap in the face to the very foundation of this nation.

IMAGE TAKEN from youtube.com