Indiana may not be famous for much other than corn and the Indy 500, but the new “Religious Freedom Law” enacted by Governor Mike Pence could change all that.
Now, thanks to this law, Indiana may come to be known as the “Anti-Gay” state. That’s because, as some interpret the law, it protects the rights of private companies to deny service to gays and lesbians. How could that happen under this nation’s strong network of laws meant to prevent discrimination in every form, size, and shape?
Easy: if someone’s religion dictates that being gay is immoral or “wrong”, then they are seemingly protected if they discriminate. Christians in particular have anti-gay sentiments worked into their beliefs, deeming homosexuality as “immoral” and against God’s will. Under Indiana’s new law, religious beliefs can be used as a defense in legal matters.
That means any private business which gets sued due to discrimination against gays or lesbians may use religious as a defense…and get away with it.
How Indiana’s Law is Different from the Federal Freedom of Religion Law
Of course there is a Federal freedom of religion law on the books, but it’s a bit different.
The federal law was meant to protect the rights of individuals from government intervention, insofar as their religious freedom goes.
Indiana’s law, on the other hand was written more with the interests of private companies in mind. This law is more expansive in that it allows in individual or private company to call upon the religious freedom card in private disputes. It also allows the defense of religion to be argued even in cases where government intervention is not a factor at all.
How People Fear the Law Will be Used
A private dispute like one where a customer sues a business when he thinks he’s been discriminated against is just the kind of way many people fear the new law will be abused.
The law allows the defense to argue that serving that person somehow places a significant burden on their religious practice. Voila, anti-gay legislature in on the books in Indiana.
Without the Indiana law, businesses who wanted to refuse service to gays had no case in court, since no government entity was involved.
Now what we have is a potential legal environment in Indiana and any other state which passes this legislation, where religious freedom is more important than the freedom to be free from discrimination.
Some Unintended Consequences?
Meanwhile, Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis, is ready to test the law. He’s arguing that under this new law, his right to smoke pot is protected.
Gov. Pence may not have foreseen that, and he may not even have foreseen how his law is being used to allow Christians to deny services to gay and lesbian individuals.
He’s now trying to “clarify“, saying he was only doing what 19 other states have already done. He states, “It’s been a tough week.” and asked lawmaker to fix the law. “The suggestion that we in some way had created a license to discriminate is deeply offensive to me…”
Whether his words turn into legislative action remains to be seen.