Take, for example, the public reaction of the NCAA. NCCA President Mark Emmert says “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.” He went on to promise, “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
That’s all well and good, until you consider that, of the 14 sites where this year’s tourney is being played, 10 of them are in states with RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) provisions in state law or religious freedom provisions in their constitutions that require strict scrutiny. And if you’re going to move the Final Four out of Indy because of RFRA, you’d probably better make new plans for 2016 too, because Texas has an RFRA statute too. Come to think of it, of all the sites selected for the Final Four between 2017 and 2021, only Georgia doesn’t protect religious freedom behind a wall of strict scrutiny.
Dear NCAA, if you’re so “especially concerned” about RFRA passing in Indiana, why did you book “future events” in places that already had RFRA provisions?
And don’t get me started about GenCon threatening to pull their convention out of Indy. Where exactly is GenCon headquarters? They’ve been based for years in a state whose constitution has been interpreted by their state courts to protect religious freedom by the same standards Indiana’s RFRA enacts.
My point: these aren’t honest objections. If they were, trust me, the NCAA wouldn’t be spending so much time in Texas. These are public relations campaigns.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking sides in this debate. (Or maybe I am, you’ll have to read and find out.) Both sides of the argument over RFRA are lying to you. Both sides need to step up to the plate and be honest. For example,
1) Requiring Businesses that Accommodate the Public to Accommodate the Public is not Religious Persecution.
As a pastor, I’m privy to some of the drivel mailed out by right wing political action organizations. I can’t tell you the number of letters I’ve received asking me to mobilize my members (and send a check!) on behalf of RFRA. Why? Because if I don’t, next thing I know the government will be jailing me for not performing gay weddings, I’ll have to rent out my fellowship hall to the local madrassa and there will be male sexual predators dressed up like women hiding in our women’s restrooms. And no, that’s not really much of an exaggeration. What isn’t an exaggeration is that every piece of mail I’ve received has argued that requiring business owners to accommodate the public regardless of their sexual orientation amounts to religious persecution.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, on a scale of religious persecution that includes things like the slaughter of the innocents (in Matthew 2) and the slaughter of the innocents (at the hands of ISIS), getting paid to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding doesn’t even register. To call that religious persecution is to make mockery of what our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing around the world every day. If you turn a profit from accommodating the public, the public has a right to expect to be accommodated. And yes, in my book, that even applies if you are officiants-for-hire running a for-profit wedding chapel in Idaho.
Of course, the other side is lying too…
2) RFRA does not protect your right to discriminate.
Have you read the law? The real crux of the law (Section 8) states:
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
(b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
In other words, if the state can argue that it has a compelling governmental interest, it can burden a person’s free exercise of religion (be they a person in the normal “I think therefore I am” sense, or in the legal “If I’m not happy, I’m allowed to sue you” definition by which coorporations have become people too).
And here’s the rub: every time someone has attempted to use RFRA in defense of their right to discriminate against gay couples, the courts have ruled preventing discrimination is a compelling governmental interest.
Remember “Elane’s Photography,” poster child for RFRA proponents? She was in New Mexico, one of the states that has an RFRA law almost identical to Indiana’s. State courts ruled, and the Supreme Court appears to agree, that preventing discrimination is a compelling governmental interest.
How about Baronnelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, in Richland, Washington? Washington State constitution protects religions freedom with these words, “Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion,” words, by the way, that have been interpreted by state courts in ways very similar to Indiana’s RFRA laws. Yet Washington state courts have upheld the state’s anti-discrimination laws as a compelling interest. This case is still in appeals, but to date the courts have found that the state’s right to prevent discrimination trumps an individual’s right to conscience.
Or what about Hands-on-Originals, the Christian T-Shirt company penalized by a local Human Rights Commission for discrimination when they refused to print T-Shirts for a gay pride event? That case is still in the courts, but until it is overturned, anti-discrimination ordinances are being enforced in Kentucky, another RFRA state.
As I said, to date, every time RFRA has been used in defense of discrimination, anti-discrimination laws have been upheld as a compelling governmental interest.
So how has RFRA been used successfully to defend religious freedom?
At Guantanamo Bay, a Muslim prisoner was allowed to keep the beard his captors were trying to force him to shave.
In Minnestota, the Amish were not forced to violate their beliefs about simplicity by a law requiring them to hang fluorescent orange triangles on their buggies. Instead courts ruled that reflective silver tape and lanterns were a less restrictive means to accomplishing the compelling governmental interest of public safety.
And in the famous Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, the court ruled that since the government had already found a way to provide contraceptive services to employees of non-profits without burdening the religious freedom of their employers, the government could use the same work-around to provide free contraceptives to employees of closely-held for-profit business as well. (Don’t buy the lie that that case was about keeping women from getting contraceptives. That’s a-whole-nother lie perhaps we should talk about.)
Why are we, the public, regardless of our position on RFRA, so quick to eat up the lies people are feeding us?
It’s because we’re afraid.
We’re afraid the government is going to throw our pastor in jail for refusing to officiate at a gay wedding.
Or we’re afraid our gay friends will be run out of the restaurant the next time they try to buy a pork tenderloin at the Backwood’s Diner.
The object of our fears might be different, but the fear itself is the same. We’re gullible because we’re afraid.
It reminds me of the slaughter of the innocents story in Matthew. Magi show up with a report of a newly born “King of the Jews.” This news threatens him. King Herod is disturbed. In much the same way, RFRA has powerbrokers in our day and age disturbed. The lobbyists and political action committees on both sides of the issue who see this as an opportunity to send out fundraising letters and get the grass roots to send in even more money are worked up over this. King Herod is disturbed.
The real tragedy in Matthew 2 is that all of Jerusalem is disturbed with him. A new king of the Jews? Most of the people in Jerusalem in Herod’s day were eager, desperate even, in their hopes for a new king of the Jews. But when the magi show up with news of the very thing they were hoping for, they don’t hear that part of the story. All they know is that the Magi have Herod upset. And when Herod’s upset, he makes life misreable for everyone else. So when Herod was disturbed, all Jerusalem was disturbed with him.
In much the same way, the common people, for whom RFRA is good (if poorly written) news, are allowing the Herods of our day to get us all worked up. We want to see the rights of minorities protected. We get offended when oppressive government captors trample the religious freedoms of Muslim prisoners. We don’t take kindly to bullying the Amish into orange signs either. But in all this talk over RFRA we don’t see that.
Instead we hear that Herod is disturbed. And we let Herod disturb us in the process. We buy his lies.
Simply put, they are fear mongering. And we’re letting them punch our customer loyalty cards by buying it up one more time.
I say we change that. I say we say, “No more.”
If we’re going to boycott, let’s boycott something worth driving out of business. How about a new hashtag: #boycottFEAR.
While you’re at it, would you like a good, balanced, non-fear based analysis of the RFRA situation in Indiana? Check this out: What the ‘religious freedom’ law really means for Indiana by Stephanie Wang in the Indy Star.