Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Religious Freedom should not become a means to discrimination

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act grants huge powers to business owners, allowing them to discriminate in dangerous, bold ways

The backlash against Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act is strong. It has undoubtedly taken some legislators in the state aback, opening some eyes to the amount of support for the LGBT community in the state and around the nation.

The law grants businesses the right to refuse service to any patron on the basis of the owners’ religious beliefs. So a Christian florist could refuse to help a gay couple for their upcoming wedding.

That opens the floodgates to other possibilities. Religious belief is a broad subject -- a person could well claim that their religious beliefs permit the exclusion of others based on their racial identity. Could, then, a restaurant refuse to serve a black family coming in that day, unaware of the racial bias that the owner has based on backwards religious tenets?

The Indianapolis Star has editorialized on the subject at great length. But the lettering in big, bold letters at the top of their opinion article puts it best: “FIX THIS NOW.” The law is flawed in so many ways, and grants overwhelming discrimination protection to business owners on the basis of a broad definition of religious belief. That’s a real slippery slope that Indiana legislators need to recognize and remedy.

Protecting individual beliefs is an important aspect of the American identity. But generally speaking, that protection has been afforded to individuals against state persecution, not the exercise of other people’s own lives. The government has no business ensuring my religious beliefs are intact when I walk down a public sidewalk. The protections I’m afforded merely grant me the right to practice my beliefs on that sidewalk if I wish to, provided I don’t interfere with other people’s lives negatively.

When a business discriminates in a just way, it does so based on policy that makes sense. I can’t enter a business without a shirt or shoes on, and that’s based on keeping the health standards of the business in good standing.

However, discrimination that unduly refuses service to patrons based on the owners’ dislike of some identifying trait is wrong every time, pure and simple.

The #BoycottIndiana hashtag is sending a strong message to the Hoosier State. It’s time that lawmakers there take action to fix a broken law.

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