Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and the Freedom Fighters valiantly fought for the civil rights of African-Americans living in a society where racism and prejudice had deemed them second class citizens. Then, the nation deliberated over whether it was right and fair to deny service or give lower quality service to someone based on their skin color, a highly superficial characteristic. Now with the signing of the Religious Restoration Act in Indiana, the nation is drawn back to the same question they struggled with half a century ago. But instead of skin color, this time it is the gender of whom a person loves.
The Indiana state legislature and Republican Governor Mike Pence recently sanctioned a law called Senate Bill 101, or the Indiana Religious Restoration Act, that makes it illegal for the government to force someone to do something against their religious beliefs unless they can demonstrate a pressing state concern.
The law consists of two provisions that have generated intense national controversy. The first provision permits corporations and individuals to file a lawsuit when they feel their religious right is infringed upon. The second provision makes it legal for people to take one another to court over these violations without government interference.
Opponents of the Religious Restoration Act contend that the law gives private corporations the right to discriminate against LGBT individuals by citing their religious beliefs, and indeed the law does just that.
Consider the hypothetical situation in which a florist or photographer refuses to work for a gay wedding because their religion does not condone homosexuality. First of all, it is not unheard of for business owners to deny services on the basis of sexual orientation in Indiana; only a couple of cities—Indianapolis, for example— prohibit such behavior. If the florist or photographer does get sued, he could simply say that he was not discriminating and that it was a coincidence for him to turn down a gay customer. Discrimination lawsuits are often hard to win because discrimination is subtle and difficult to prove.
The new law will also give the defendant more power in cases such as these because it requires the judge to employ strict scrutiny. If the defendant can prove that serving a gay customer is burdensome on his religious beliefs and that his religious beliefs are genuine, the court will have to go through the trouble of considering if allowing the defendant his right to deny services to a homosexual couple will be detrimental to society or a larger state concern. Usually the judges would side with the florist or photographer because his choices do not harm the society at large, especially since the homosexual couple can find another person to cater their wedding.
“I would actually protect the religious people,” said Thomas Berg, a law professor at the University of Toronto. “I think a judge would recognize that for religious folks, this is a religious context. And it would have to be a case where a lot of other people offering the service are nearby. On those facts, there’s not really a compelling interest saying this religious dissenter has to be the one providing the service.”
The new Indiana law has given homophobic religious businesses a weapon to target homosexual customers and, make no mistake, these businesses will use it. Thus the country finds itself back where it came from 50 years ago.
In a country that prides itself with being truly free and democratic, the nation once asked itself why blacks could use one service but not another. In much the same way, today the nation asks why homosexuals are entitled to get services from one company but not another. Being separated can never equate to being equal because is tells the people being targeted that they are not valued and that certain people do not want to interact with them. They are then reduced to second-class citizens, something which should not exist in America or any other country with a true moral compass.
Since the inception of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a number of public figures have taken to social media to express their opposition for the new law.
“We could not believe that in today’s society somebody would pass legislation that would open a particular class of citizens up to blatant discrimination,” said Tara Betterman, owner and CEO of Communitas Management and Betterman Builders, on behalf of her company.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also expressed her dissent.
“Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against people because of who they love,” Clinton said.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act really should not have been made into law in this day and age and in this country. I, along with many other American citizens, hope that Governor Pence will consider eradicating the law, or at least amending it to protect LGBT citizens from being discriminated against.
- Egg Bowl at the Rose Bowl - May 5, 2015
- Religious Freedom Restoration Act the New Jim Crowe - May 3, 2015
- PCC Chinese Music Ensembles Performs at Westerbeck Recital Hall - May 4, 2015