Religious freedom is not what people in favor of it want you to think. At least, not according to the law Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed in private yesterday. Religious freedom is nothing more than passing laws to have freedom for businesses to legally discriminate.
While Pence claims that the bill he signed, called the Senate Bill 101, “is not about discrimination,” it is clear that that’s exactly what it’s about. The bill “prohibits state and local governments from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion.” There has been worry that this means it’s, essentially, making it legal for businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, all in the name of “religious freedom.”
The reason people are fearing that this could allow businesses to discriminate is because of the timing (after conservatives in Indiana failed to ban same-sex marriage in the state) and the allies Pence had on his side (conservatives who have pushed for anti-gay marriage laws in the past, such as Eric Miller, the head of Advance America).
Interestingly, Pence cited the equally-controversial Hobby Lobby case as some of his inspiration for signing the bill. In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned businesses can legally deny their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives under the grounds of “religious freedom.” What does religion have to do with contraception? Not much, but Hobby Lobby and other “religious” corporations can use their “religious freedom” as an excuse to deny their employees coverage for different forms of health care.
The passing of Pence’s bill is more of the same. While “religious freedom” shouldn’t have any direct correlation to gay marriage, the law could open the floodgates and allow businesses in Indiana to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religion. Apparently, if their religion states that gay marriage is immoral, Pence just passed a law that would allow these anti-gay marriage businesses to discriminate against customers they have a problem with.
The “religious freedom” laws that have been passed over the course of the last year make many Americans wonder what happened to the idea of separation of church and state. While the separation between the two isn’t directly in the Constitution, the idea is still there. Recently, businesses have been given the privilege to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate. Discrimination is against the law, yet “religious freedom laws” are going against that law.
While Pence claims that this bill isn’t about discriminating against groups of people, it blurs the line. It gives businesses the right to discriminate against people, claim that they are exercising their “religious freedoms,” and doing so legally.
America is founded on the idea of “freedom,” but when someone’s freedom compromises the rights of other citizens, then that is no longer “freedom.” That is discrimination. We should be free to practice our religion (or choose not to practice any religion in particular), as long as those practices do not include denying services to customers based on their sexual orientation alone.
Laws like Pence’s Senate Bill 101 in Indiana could open up the doors for similar bills in other states. Despite the fact that Pence claims his bill was not passed to allow discrimination, it is clear that the bill would make it easier for businesses to do just that. If other states follow suit, discrimination could become easier for businesses to practice legally.
It’s unclear whether or not Pence will be running for president in 2016, but if other conservative candidates hold Pence’s beliefs, then this election could prove to be an election that includes candidates who are still fighting to take away human rights on no basis other than discrimination excused as religious freedom.