Tuesday, March 31, 2015


There's been a lot of hand-wringing this week over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which protects individuals from being forced to compromise their religious beliefs in their place of business. This has been interpreted by many, particularly on the left, as an open the door to discrimination against gays and minorities, and thus the expressions of outrage directed at the Indiana legislature. This interpretation is, however, wrong. The law only allows a defendant to use religious liberty as a defense against lawsuits, it doesn't guarantee that the defense will succeed. Even so, what's been missed in all the commotion and teeth gnashing is that some twenty states have such laws, state senator Barack Obama voted for a RFRA in Illinois when he served in that state's legislature, and Bill Clinton signed a similar law at the federal level in 1993. No matter. It's okay when Democrats pass laws like this, but when Republicans do it you just know there's treachery afoot.

Gabriel Malor at The Federalist has a good piece explaining the Indiana law and illustrating how shallow is so much of the protest against it, but perhaps the blue ribbon for nincompoopery among the protests goes to Connecticut governor Dan Malloy who has proclaimed that he will ban all state travel to Indiana to punish that state for its retrograde belief that religious freedom deserves to be protected. What Gov. Malloy evidently didn't realize as he basked in the glow of his righteous indignation was that Connecticut has had an even more restrictive law than Indiana's on the books for twenty years. Perhaps the rest of the country should ban travel to Connecticut.

These RFRA's stem from the fact that business people have been sued and some have been forced out of business because they felt that it violated their religious convictions to, for example, bake a wedding cake for a gay couple or photograph their wedding. Whether their religious convictions are right or wrong is not the issue. The issue is whether anyone who has strong religious or moral objections to a particular practice must nevertheless set those convictions aside as they conduct their business. To say they must disregard their beliefs, as some insist, is to say that one person's freedom of religion must be subordinated to another person's freedom of sexual expression, or whatever. The purpose of the RFRA, in all the states that have them and in the law that Bill Clinton signed, is to protect those who have religious/moral objections to what their customers are asking them to do.

Of course, one baker's refusal to countenance a gay union may be an inconvenience to a gay couple, but there are plenty of other bakers who would be happy to bake cakes for them and film their weddings. The couple's inconvenience hardly seems worth forcing a family-run bakery to choose between their conscience, a lawsuit, and going out of business.