Recent RFRA law creates controversy within differing communities

By Leah Ellis and Natalie Allen

As religious freedom becomes a rising topic of discussion, Indiana’s recently passed Senate Enrolled Act No. 101 forced many people take a stance on the issue concerning civil procedure. Debates over the topic have included citizens disagreeing with the law finding it to be discriminatory to certain groups while others find it to be a simple misunderstanding of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA]. The legislation which was recently at the center of national debate, permits Indiana business owners to refuse service in some circumstances based on their religious beliefs.

“Religious Freedom Restoration Act establishes a judicial standard of review which will provide the courts with clear guidance on how to resolve any matters that come forth surroundings religious freedom,” said Indiana Senator Ron Grooms, who voted in favor of the act.

Although there are many issues regarding this topic, Grooms said there will not be much of a difference.

“Hoosiers will likely not notice a difference, unless the government is overstepping its bounds in trying to restrict an individual from practicing their religious beliefs,” said Grooms.

According to Grooms, this act is intended to provide courts with clear guidance on how to resolve cases that deal with religious freedom.

However, the act creates controversy, causing people like senior Reagan Kurk to reconsider the fairness of the legislation and the equal protection of the LGBT community.

“I am in full support of the RFRA in the sense that it prevents the government from infringing on a person’s freedom of religion,” said Kurk.

However, Kurk said she also believes important components of the legislation are missing to provide the LGBT community equal protection under the law.

Indiana representative Ed Clere, who voted against the law, explained what it was intended to do and what the restrictions are.

“RFRA supporters say the law was intended to establish a standard for state courts to follow when considering cases in which government action is alleged to substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion. Under RFRA, in order to substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion, a governmental entity must demonstrate a compelling interest and must use the least restrictive means of furthering that interest,” said Clere.

Aside from hearing about the law from outside sources, Kurk encourages others to educate themselves on their own.

“The most important thing a person can do is to educate himself. It is easy to get overwhelmed with emotional outcries on both sides of political arguments. I encourage every person to read the law,” said Kurk.

Sophomore Kayla Taff disagreed with the law, but does not see it as a significant threat to those who may be discriminated against.

“I honestly don’t think the law affects many people because not many businesses are going along with the legislation. I do believe that it allows for discrimination. Not only against gays, but against anybody. Separation of church and state was made for a reason, and it’s really unifying to see how many people in Indiana support equality,” said Taff.

Taff disagreed with the law for a few reasons, but mainly because she believes all religions should respect all people equally.

“I think it opens all doors to discrimination. I respect all religions, and I think that religions should respect all people, especially in business situations,” said Taff.

Senior Justin Sellers also disagreed with the law due to his beliefs about equality.

“There shouldn’t be a law allowing someone to discriminate against another human. In the end we are all made out of the same things, nothing else should matter,” said Sellers.

Sellers understands the motives of the new law, but thinks the point of providing religious freedom was entirely missed.

“Our legislation can be very conservative, and with more liberal advancements on the federal level, our state was probably trying to compensate. I understand what they were trying to do with ‘religious freedom,’ but I think they totally missed the point,” said Sellers.

Because the act targets certain groups, Grooms offers an explanation as to why some might feel strongly about this issue.

“People on all sides of this issue at the national level wanted to use Indiana’s bill to push their agenda on LGBT rights. We know from all the other RFRA laws that it won’t affect any laws that deal with business turning away customers, but the debate over LGBT rights is so fierce right now, on both sides of the issue, that people mischaracterized the bill to push their agendas,” said Grooms.

Since the debate over RFRA is still taking place, the debate over LGBT rights is going to continue to grow and cause even more controversy.

“In addition to ongoing debate over RFRA itself, the controversy surrounding the law is almost certain to accelerate the debate over state legal protection for LGBT people,” said Clere.

Legal protection is not the only concern within the LGBT community.

“There is an enormous disconnect with religious and LGBT communities. This disconnect has existed for centuries and unfortunately, is not going away anytime soon,” said Kurk.

Clere is concerned about the law for mainly two reasons, one of which states that the wrong message is being sent by the RFRA.

“First, regardless of how it may be intended or its potential legal effect, RFRA is sending the wrong message. Coming on the heels of the highly defensive marriage amendment debate, it was perceived by many as a consolation prize for supporters of the failed effort to define marriage as one man and one woman and, as such, a license to discriminate. Second, I was concerned about the legal effect of RFRA. Legal experts disagreed over its potential effect, which was bad for a law that was supposed to establish a clear legal standard. Among my concerns was how RFRA would affect communities that had enacted or may wish to enact to local ordinance discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. New Albany is one of a number of Indiana communities that have such an ordinance. In fact, this issue was addressed in the subsequent ‘fix’ to RFRA, although I still have other concerns,” said Clere.

In contrast, Grooms does not see discrimination as a major problem.

“Have you seen a difference in the 30 other states that have RFRA statutes? Have you noticed a difference since 1993? In 22 years of application of this standard at the federal and state levels, discrimination has never materialized,” said Grooms.

Kurk suggested the first step in mending the disconnect between people and their beliefs is to start small and grow from there.

“To begin affecting worldwide change, start with the people around you,” said Kurk. “We must decide if we are being respectful and loving towards all people regardless of their beliefs.”

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