The Religious Freedom Act
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act
By Guest Blogger Talia Philips
Written in Support of the Queer Sense Book on Indiegogo
To ask any right-wing religious individual in the United States of America, and they might tell you that the nation was founded as a Christian nation, which pledged to follow through its Constitution the Judeo-Christian ethic. What they leave out, however, is that this nation was actually founded primarily by deists – that is to say, people who believed in a god but did not have a religion. This nation was founded specifically, and only, as a secular nation; not under any god, but particularly apart from a god, with a strong emphasis placed on the separation between church and state. “God” found everywhere came later, but not due to the founders’ intent.
This is not opinion; these are recorded facts that can easily be found and verified a thousand times over. The USA was not meant to be any sort of religious nation; we were constructed with the specific intent to be secular. Even still, the religious right has been trying since America’s inception to force their religion into everything: Onto money, into our nation’s Pledge, into state constitutions, into public schools, and even into federal law, as with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
To understand Indiana’s incarnation of the “religious freedom” law, we must first view the original precedent for context.
The Original Religious Freedom Act
To avoid getting bogged down by the minutia and rambling nature of political language, suffice to say that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had a specific intent: To “[ensure] that interests in religious freedom were protected.” What this did, in a nutshell, was provide an out, so to speak, for people who may have been passed over for a job, harassed at work or in school, etc. If the person passed over, for instance, happened to be Christian, well, you can imagine the complaint: “They’re discriminating against Christians!”
So, if you have ever watched Fox News and wondered how white Christians can claim persecution with a straight face, the 1993 Act is exactly why. They have legal precedent to claim they’re being discriminated against.
How “Freedom” is the Last Thing the Act Promotes
On its face, Indiana’s revamping of the Religious Freedom Act, as it pertains to state-level business, is supposedly only offering the freedom for religious people to follow their convictions. In other words, if there’s a pizza place whose owners are Christians and don’t feel right delivering a pizza to a same-sex couple’s home, then, in accordance with the law, they wouldn’t have to.
Of course, the political language of any Act is exceedingly more complex than this simplistic layman’s explanation offered here; but the gist is the gist: The Act allows people to outright discriminate against others, so long as the party initiating the discrimination can claim they’re doing so on religious grounds.
Once you break through the facade, you find that there isn’t much “freedom” at all in the Religious Freedom Act. After all, what about the public’s freedom to shop at any store or shop they so choose?
Opponents of the law argue that any store open in the public domain is obligated to serve anyone from the public domain; e.g. whether gay, straight, trans, Muslim or otherwise, a public domain should have no right to discriminate based on such flimsy circumstance. Proponents of the law argue the opposite and proclaim that it actually isn’t a public domain, but rather a private business.
However, all opinion aside, it is a matter of objective, demonstrable fact that, while technically a “private” business, they still offer services to the public at large. Therefore, being allowed to discriminate on any grounds whatsoever is not only unfair but may actually be unconstitutional. We will all have to wait for these things to get through the Supreme Court before finding out if they will stick, but for the time being, laws like the Religious Freedom Act grant Christians the “freedom” to take away other peoples’ freedom based on extremely trivial and topical happenstance; e.g. the sexual attraction of one person to another.
The Discrimination To Come from Such Acts
To look at this realistically and as practically as possible, one could argue: Okay, so, same-sex couples might run into discriminating when looking to have their wedding catered by company X. What’s the big deal, exactly? To understand the wide-reaching implications here, one only need extrapolate this scenario to a broader scale.
For instance, in over 11 states, it is literally written into their state constitutions that atheists—or those who do not believe in the Christian God—are not even full citizens and cannot vote, cannot hold office, etc. On an everyday, practical level, these laws are no longer adhered to. But they could be, and atheists would have no recourse save a lengthy Supreme Court process. Now, imagine that same hardcore Christian that doesn’t want to serve same-sex couples. How will this person feel about atheists?
They could easily be the next victims of this “freedom” act. Or think about African Americans. It may sound hyperbolic, but American slavery was started as a perversion of Christianity. Due to the Bible’s text about the descendants of Ham, and the explicit allowance of slavery, Christians hundreds of years ago used their religion to buy, transport, trade, keep and sometimes even beat and murder slaves. It was also the same justification used for Jim Crow. Loosely, “Blacks are an abomination according to my religion, therefore they cannot eat with whites.”
What is stopping that same religious business owner from saying, basically, “I really, really, really believe, according to my religion, that Blacks and Latinos are not children of God, and thus I will not serve them.”? According to this revamped Act, this is precisely what one could do, if one wanted, and be allowed to blatantly discriminate against any and everyone the person feels like discriminating against. As long as they attribute it to their religion, they are untouchable.
The real shame is that it cannot work in reverse due to the federal act. For instance, say you’re a member of the LGBT community or an atheist, and a Christian wants your business to cater their wedding. If you turn them away on religious grounds, you are in direct violation of a federal law and will punished.
So, we ask you, where is the freedom here, exactly?
QUEER SENSE promotes change and is authored by Bryce B. Summers, Ph.D. who is a psychologist. Please help change attitudes to acceptance whether it is domestic, or abroad, by contributing to a crowd funding campaign. Help make this book happen!
Queer Sense is a theory that fosters awareness on how culture shapes attitude development through social models, emotional connections to social models, aka attachment, and use of language with one’s models.