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9 Fun Facts About RFRA

Late last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Ever since, a firestorm of debate has erupted about whether this bill creates a “right to discriminate”.

As you think about and discuss this issue (and you should do both), here are some important points to keep in mind involving the law itself as well as the political climate around it.

1. RFRA is not a license to “discriminate”: RFRA states that government actions burdening religious expression must be the “least restrictive means” possible to accomplish a “compelling government interest.” In a dispute between the government and an individual’s religious beliefs, RFRA doesn’t decide the winner, it decides the rules of the game.

2. RFRA was passed to protect the right to smoke peyote: Maybe if we tell them RFRA was originally about drugs the lefties will feel better about it. The original reason RFRA was passed was because the government was trying to stop Native Americans from using peyote in their religious ceremonies without adequate reason. Since then, RFRA has been used to: (1) defend the rights of Muslim women to wear headdresses and Muslim men to have long beards, (2) defend the rights of Seventh Day Adventists to collect unemployment benefits after refusing to work on Saturdays, and (3) prohibit the government from forcing the Amish to place bright fluorescent signs on their buggies in violation of their beliefs.

3. RFRA has never been used as a defense against discrimination based on sexual orientation: Since RFRA was first enacted at the federal level in 1993 and gradually passed in 19 states (prior to Indiana) it has never been used to successfully defend discrimination based on sexual orientation.

4. Thirty-one states have the same standard: Contrary to the perception created by the perpetually offended, thirty-one states have the same legal standard either through statute or court decision. You won’t find stories about gay people unable to find jobs or buy paninis in any of those states.

5. Lefties used to like RFRA: When Congress passed RFRA in 1993, the House of Representatives passed it unanimously, 97 U.S. Senators voted for it, and President Clinton signed it. Once upon a time, religious freedom had bipartisan support.

6. Barack Obama Voted for RFRA: President Obama was serving in the Illinois State Senate when they passed RFRA. He voted for it.

7. Jay Inslee Voted for RFRA: Governor Jay Inslee was serving as a member of Congress in 1993 when the federal RFRA was passed. He voted for it too.

8. Yes, to China, no to Indiana: In response to Indiana’s new law, Governor Jay Inslee ordered a ban on state travel to Indiana stating that, “We in Washington stand for equality.” Should one infer from Gov. Inslee’s 2013 trade mission to China, that he has no objection to the way that government treats its people?

9. Indiana doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation:Opponents of RFRA claim this bill is a license to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The problem with this concern is that it isn’t illegal (i.e., it’s legal) to discriminate based on sexual orientation now. If people wanted to have a “no gays” sign up outside their store, there’s no law to stop them now. Of course no one does because they aren’t jerks and they want to make money. Still, rather than celebrate the tolerance of the people from Indiana, they hyperventilate over the prospect that at some undetermined point in the future someone might do something mean.

The left fears laws that protect conscience right and religious liberty because they want to force individuals, businesses, and organizations to do things that violate orthodox religious beliefs. That’s the take home lesson in all of this.

The world they desire cannot exist in a world that respects diversity, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religious expression.

Where the left used to believe individual liberty was the solution to the problem of too much government control over the lives of individuals, they now view individual liberty as the root cause of “intolerance” and “discrimination.

That reality presents a much bigger challenge than any misunderstandings about a new law in Indiana.

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