RFRA Laws Have Never Been Used to Discriminate Against Anyone
By Tony Perkins
At just three pages, the Indiana RFRA doesn’t take much effort to read. But it’s an effort, unfortunately, that too few people bothered to make. Instead, they’ve let the media control the narrative with wild distortions about what the law actually does. The federal version was so non-controversial that Al Gore said, “The fact is, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is something that all Americans can support.”
Two decades later, we shouldn’t be surprised that homosexual activists have seized on a narrow reading of the measure to spark outrage about the bill. But that doesn’t change the truth, which is that the implications of RFRA go well beyond marriage. In fact, in 22 years, these laws have never been used to “discriminate” against gays and lesbians. Believe it or not, the real beneficiaries, as the Washington Times explains, have been Muslims, Indians, and Sikhs.
University of Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock tried to dispel some of those myths with the history of the law. “So what kinds of cases are RFRAs really about?” he asked. “They are about churches feeding the homeless; sometimes the city or the neighbors object. They are about Muslim women wearing scarves or veils. They are about Amish buggies. They are about Sabbath observers. They are about church bells… And usually, the government wins. These laws have been under-enforced, not over-enforced.”
Just this week, Geneva College showed the law’s broad impact. Using Pennsylvania’s RFRA, attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are asking the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to exempt them from ObamaCare’s pro-abortion mandate. They argue that Americans shouldn’t be forced to violate their religious beliefs and pay for drugs or procedures they morally oppose — a right the Supreme Court already upheld in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. RFRA may not guarantee Geneva College a victory in court, but it does guarantee them the opportunity to be heard. And that’s all anyone is asking for when the government attacks faith. (For other examples of how the law could help, check out the Benham Brothers’, Craig James’s, Kelvin Cochran’s, and Barronelle Stutzman’s stories.)
The Left’s interpretation of RFRA, meanwhile, was meant to scare people — and scare them they have. GOP presidential hopefuls Governors Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal, Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum have been out in full force to defend the bills, including Mike Huckabee. The former governor is as frustrated as we are to see states like Arkansas cave on their proposed language. “Critics of the law have distorted this legislation and created another phony crisis — and sadly many major corporations, organizations, and individuals have collapsed under the weight of the irrational pressure from the far Left,” he told reporters.
One of those corporations, Angie’s List, is feeling the heat from subscribers, as friends of FRC and AFA make it clear that they paid the company to review service providers — not public policy. If Angie’s List doesn’t want to deal with states that protect religious liberty, then we should accommodate them and not do business with them. (Cancel your membership here or call 866-623-6088.)
It’s the same with the out-of-control governors and elected officials who are banning state-funded travel to Indiana. In the end, they’re probably doing Hoosiers a favor. Of course, the irony is, a couple of these governors (Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy for one) are boycotting Indiana because of RFRA, when they have the same law on their own books! Then there’s New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who announced he was banning travel by state employees to intolerant Indiana as he heads to Cuba. How’s that for hypocrisy?
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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