The state of Indiana is making news not only as the host for the NCAA Final Four but also for passing a state law providing protections for religious freedom. Here’s what you should know about this law:
1. What is RFRA?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. Senate and Congress in 1993 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. This law prohibited any substantial government burden on the exercise of religion. It was proposed and passed in response to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which narrowed protections for the free exercise of religion.
2. How is Indiana’s RFRA different from the federal law?
Federal RFRA only protects against federal law (due to a court challenge that struck down the part related to state law). So the federal law protects against violations to religious freedom by the federal government whereas Indiana’s RFRA now protects against some state violations.
3. What’s the point?
The intent of RFRA is to protect against state infringement on the rights of conscience and of religious freedom. That comes into play when we see citizens being harmed for living out their faith.
Take someone like Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington state. She is being sued by both the state Attorney General and two men over not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony (watch her exclusive interview here). Without even going to trial, the court ordered that both the state of Washington and the same-sex couple can collect damages and attorney’s fees against both her business assets and her personal home and savings.
Another example is with Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby. Their Supreme Court ruling showed that religious liberty is alive, even in the way we run a business. Whether it’s forcing employers to pay for abortion-inducing drugs or forcing business owners to be a part of a same-sex wedding ceremony, the government should not infringe on fundamental freedoms – just as RFRA intends to prevent.
Sadly, there are many examples to point to (family farm in NY, fire chief Kelvin Cochran to name a few more). RFRA is intended to protect citizens like Barronelle from being coerced by the government to act in a way contrary to their deeply held beliefs. They reflect the truth that our faith is not contained in any church building; we live our faith everywhere and at all times. And we can all live in freedom in a diverse community without violating our duties to one another.
4. What’s the fuss about?
You may have heard extreme claims about the Indiana law in the media, including that it’s a license for people to “harm” LGBT people under the pretext of religion. The fact is that influential people and organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group, see religious liberty protections as threats to their agenda. The point is to eliminate all cultural resistance to their movement, and laws like Indiana’s RFRA get in the way by giving religious persons a right to object to their beliefs being trampled.
The media, in turn, parrots these organizations’ talking points. Everyone in the media isn’t “in the bag” for the HRC, but in their own circles pro-LGBT movement voices are treated as gospel, and so they do the same in their reporting. We combat this by speaking the truth about religious freedom laws widely and winsomely.
5. What’s next?
First thing’s first: The brave leaders of Indiana need your support. Below you can find phone numbers for key figures in passing their state’s RFRA. As anti-religious-freedom activists and the media pile on, they need support – even from out of state! – to remind them of the importance of this law.
Gov. Mike Pence: 317-232-4567
House Majority Leader Jud McMillin: 317-234-9380
House Speaker Brian Bosma: 317-232-9677
Senate Majority Leader Brandt Hershman: 317-232-9840
Senate President David Long: 317-232-9416
What about Pennsylvania? We have a state RFRA here in PA, though Indiana’s is a little bit broader, encompassing business activities. There are no current proposals to repeal or to enhance our RFRA. Keep an eye on our blog and sign up for our email list to stay up to date on religious freedom in Pennsylvania.
Indiana became the 20th state to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The effort was led by the Indiana Family Institute, a family policy council with whom Pennsylvania Family Institute is proud to be associated.
Pennsylvania Family Institute, along with our legal team at the Independence Law Center, will continue to protect religious freedom in Pennsylvania. From representing the Hahn family (owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties in their landmark Supreme Court ruling) to protecting churches from unlawful taxation to standing up for students’ free speech in the classroom, we have a proven tract record of successfully protecting your First Amendment freedoms and helping families at no financial cost of their own.
Helping to make this possible is the financial support from individuals and families across Pennsylvania. To help us defend religious freedom in Pennsylvania, you can make a secure online donation: click here to donate.