Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on ABC's This Week in an attempt to "clarify" his state's new "religious freedom" bill which he signed into law. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Pence said he was surprised by the reaction to the law. That was the only truthful thing he said in the whole interview. He repeatedly refused to answer the question as to whether the law allowed businesses to discriminate against the LBGT community.
Pence kept citing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify the Indiana law.
"Well — well, this — there’s been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you’re doing that, as well. The issue here - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been on the books for more than twenty years. It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved. And, in point of fact, in more than two decades, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country."
There's just one problem with that claim: it isn't true and, furthermore, Pence knows that. Yes, all the above is true with respect to the federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But professor Howard Friedman at the Religious Clause Blog compared the Indiana law with the federal statute and found some disturbing distinctions between the two.
The (Indiana) bill is broader than its federal counterpart in several ways. 1. It explicitly protects the exercise of religion by entities as well as individuals. Its enumeration of entities includes "a corporation", without limiting this to closely-held companies. 2. The bill's protections may be invoked when a person's exercise of religion is "likely" to be substantially burdened by government action, not just when it has been burdened. 3. The bill also permits the assertion of free exercise rights as a claim or defense in judicial or administrative proceedings even if the government is not a party to the proceedings. The relevant governmental entity has a right to intervene in such cases to respond to the RFRA claim. A remedy under the bill is only available against the government; suits by employees or applicants invoking the law against private employers are precluded.
Summed up, the Indiana law, contrary to its supporters' claims, does indeed allow a business to deny services to the LBGT community on the grounds of religious freedom. It would permit virtually any business or individual to discriminate against a person or group that went against their religious beliefs. Not only that, the business or individual would only have to claim that they are "likely" to be burdened by said person or group. And, lastly, government involvement is not necessary in order to file a claim under law. The old "the government is forcing me to photograph that gay couple" line doesn't apply here.
Yep, Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly really stepped into it on this one. They passed a law that ostensibly gives carte blanche to religious bigots and, to their astonishment, they got called on the carpet for it. Want to know how bad they screwed the pooch on this one? When a similar bill passed the Arizona legislature last year, then governor Jan Brewer vetoed it, citing it was too controversial. That's right, Jan (crazy lady) Brewer thought her state's religious freedom bill was TOO controversial for her tastes.
Pence can dance all he wants around the central issue, but he can't hide from the one undeniable fact. When it comes to discrimination against the gay community, it's open season in the Hoosier state.
Sad, isn't it? Fifty years ago, it was the black community that was denied basic services because it went against certain people's beliefs. I guess it IS true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.