Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lambda Legal's Jenny Pizer Explains Why Indiana's New "Religious Freedom" Law Is So Wrong

This week Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed into law a "license to discriminate" bill (SB 101) that proponents claimed was just aimed at clarifying protections for religious freedoms in Indiana but which LGBT activists and others had warned could open up all sorts of disfavored minorities to discrimination under the guise of protecting religion. Of course, we at have been following the recent proliferation of deceptively anti-LGBT legislation in multiple states such as Texas, Arkansas and West Virginia.

Lambda Legal's Jenny Pizer explains why Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)" is so dangerous to the civil rights of LGBT people and others:
The truth is, Indiana’s RFRA is designed to allow and in some respects, invites people to disregard laws that should apply to everyone conducting a business — laws to prevent people from harming each other in the name of religion.At Lambda Legal, our top concern is religiously motivated discrimination against people already vulnerable to exclusion and mistreatment, especially the LGBT community. 
Gov. Pence, in his signing statement, said, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved." 
He’s wrong, or disingenuous, on both points. If this new law does not seek to facilitate discrimination, why did legislators pressing for its passage say it’s “needed” to allow businesses to turn away same-sex couples? And why did a majority of Indiana legislators then reject amendments offered to specify that these enhanced religious rights cannot be used to excuse discrimination?  
Further, about disputes between private parties, the law says explicitly, “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” This language was included to allow private parties to object to following a law that otherwise would apply to them, and to assert these expanded religious rights in a dispute with another private party. 
A stark problem for LGBT Hoosiers is that unlike in other states, Indiana law does not include sexual orientation and gender identity within the state’s nondiscrimination framework. 
When antigay lawmakers say laws like this are “needed,” and they point to cases from other states where we successfully resisted use of religion to defend discrimination, they don’t acknowledge that a statewide nondiscrimination law was on the books in those places. Currently, less than half the states have such laws.
When asked about these points on national television, Gov. Pence (who previously had been mentioned as another potential Republican candidate for President in 2016) did not acquit himself well. He said that he wanted to work with the Indiana legislature to clarify that SB 101 does not include a license to discriminate but that he did not intend to include sexual orientation or gender identity in statewide nondiscrimination legislation.

Indiana's largest LGBT group, Freedom Indiana immediately took the Governor to task on the lack of a real commitment to protect LGBT people from discrimination in Indiana:
Governor Pence didn't listen last week when he signed this discriminatory law into effect, and he's still not listening to the growing chorus of criticism locally and nationally. While we appreciate his recognition that he's placed our state in peril, he's obviously trying to have it both ways. You can't 'clarify' discrimination. Indiana now has billions of dollars and thousands of jobs on the line, all because the Governor wouldn't stop this dangerous bill. He has a second chance to save our reputation for Hoosier hospitality, but he has to stand up and protect LGBT Hoosiers. Discrimination is not a core Hoosier value, and we can't afford to let our state continue to suffer. 
Thousands of people attended a march protesting SB 101 in Indianapolis yesterday and major corporations are announcing that they are scuttling plans to expand or do more business in Indiana as a result of the controversy.

Already the reaction in Indiana seems to be dissuading other red states like Montana and Georgia from moving so quickly to appear to trample the civil rights of American citizens in the quest to reify religious beliefs.

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