Tag Archives: RFRA

RFRA, Language, WorldViews

A couple of days ago, a group of Indiana Pastors gathered at the Statehouse to deliver a long letter accusing the Governor and legislators of “betrayal” for amending RFRA to include a modicum of civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

I encourage readers to click through and read the letter in its entirety, because it is a (rather chilling) window into a world in which words like “liberty” mean something very different from their meaning in the world I inhabit.

This “fixed” RFRA legislation has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties….You received godly counsel from strong and knowledgeable leaders from across our nation who encouraged you to stand strong and to veto this legislation. You failed. In doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold dear….

You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures. It was clear from the press conference that the next “discussion” will involve the creation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a special protected class in Indiana. Leadership from the gay community told all who were listening that this will become a reality in Indiana….

God’s Word is very clear about the proper expression of human sexuality, and homosexuality is one of a variety of sexual behaviors God expressly condemns. For Christians, therefore, sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights.

There is much, much more.

Let me be clear: drawing a line between the right of people to the free exercise of their belief systems–no matter how foreign or even repugnant those beliefs may be to other Americans–and the civil rights of their fellow citizens is not simple, nor is the placement of that line uncontested. The Pastors’ letter highlights a consistent and probably unavoidable tension in an America that values both liberty and equality.

That said, the letter vividly demonstrates the worldview of would-be theocrats who believe they speak for God– who believe they have the right to demand laws that privilege their beliefs and impose them on everyone else, and who believe that failure to occupy that privileged legal position victimizes them.

This is the worldview of the Taliban.

As Long As We’re Talking About Religious Liberty…

Can we at least examine whose religion deserves to be “protected” by giving businesses an exemption from otherwise applicable civil rights laws?

Despite the ignominious fate of RFRA (the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”) in Indiana, other states–most notably Louisiana–are moving to enact similar measures. Louisiana’s increasingly bizarre Governor, Bobby Jindal, insists that he won’t be dissuaded by crass business interests from “protecting religious liberty.”

The rhetoric around this issue would have us believe that measures like RFRA are needed to protect a monolithic and undifferentiated Christianity from the vast secular army bent on its destruction. So we see Mike Huckabee warning that the “criminalization of Christianity” is imminent, while Shawn Hannity recently proclaimed that the “three most persecuted groups in America today are Christians, the wealthy, and white males.”

I don’t know what planet Huckabee and Hannity live on, and there is no point in debating people who’ve clearly been drinking the kool-aid. But as a non-Christian, I do want to stick up for the numerous thoughtful and actually “Christian” Christians who are getting a bad name from these culture warriors who claim to speak for them.

As Political Animal recently reported,

Next time you hear somebody talk about “Christians” being opposed to same-sex marriage, or being “persecuted” for their refusal to acknowledge same-sex marriages, you might want to direct them to fresh data from the Public Religion Research Institute about the different attitudes of different denominational categories of religious folk on this subject (h/t Sarah Posner).

PRRI shows that while white evangelical Protestants do indeed oppose same-sex marriage by a 28/66 margin, white mainline Protestants support it by a significantly larger margin (62/30) than the general public (54/38). And if you want to believe us mainliners are a dying breed, there’s U.S. Catholics, who despite their church’s teaching support marriage equality by 60/30.

There are also plenty of Christian churches that support reproductive choice.

I personally know a lot of Christians who read their bibles for clues on how to be better, kinder people, rather than for evidence of their moral superiority and their right to tell everyone else how to live.

In fact, the only “embattled” Christians I’m aware of are the theocrats who find it intolerable to live under a system that accords heretics and nonbelievers an equal place at the civic table.

People like Jindal, Huckabee and Hannity look a lot more like the Taliban than like the good Christians I know.

PR Advice from an Expert

A good friend of mine used to run one of Indiana’s premiere public relations firms. So naturally, when the news broke that state agencies had hired a national PR powerhouse (for $2,000,000!) to begin repairing the damage done to the state’s economy and reputation by those responsible for the RFRA debacle, I asked him for his thoughts.

His response:

As an Indiana PR professional, I will fix Indiana’s problem for free in three simple steps:
1. Pass a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — along with sex, race, religion, etc.
2. Have an articulate Indiana spokesperson appear on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
3. When George asks “A final question, a final yes-or-no question: Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?” answer: “No, George, it should not be legal and it is not legal in the state of Indiana.”

PR problem solved. No expense required.
You’re welcome.

In other words, our mothers were right: Actions speak louder than words. (People will judge you by your behavior.) Think before you speak. (You won’t get into these situations if you think about what you are about to say or do before you say or do it.) Treat others as you would like to be treated. (You won’t regret acting like a nice person instead of a jerk.)

After all, as Matt Tully noted in a column making much the same observations as my friend, there’s a limit to what spin alone can accomplish.

Karma’s a Bitch

More accurately, as a friend posted on Facebook, “Karma’s only a bitch if you are.” Either way, the ignominious conclusion of the Christian Right’s spiteful effort to send a message to the LGBT community is what we professors call “a teachable moment.”

Let’s recap: Eric Miller of Advance America, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, and Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute were smarting from their losses in the same-sex marriage debate. They wanted a win for their constituencies (to whom, not so incidentally, their constant fundraising efforts are directed), and prevailed upon their ideological allies in the Indiana legislature to introduce a vague and expanded, post Hobby Lobby version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They were confident that Governor Pence, a longtime culture warrior, would sign it.

RFRA was unlikely to have much effect in rural Indiana, where discrimination against LGBT folks was still entirely legal anyway. And although the legislation raised some troubling questions, most lawyers predicted that it would not trump LGBT civil rights in cities where those rights were protected by ordinance.

But the real purpose of the legislation wasn’t legal, it was political.

The bill was intended to send a message: to tell gay folks that despite their marriage victory, they remain unwelcome, and (by “protecting” good Christians against further “victimization” by the nefarious “gay agenda”) to reassure their credulous members they were worth the dollars they’ve been extracting from them.

That message was received and (unlike both RFRA and the First Amendment) understood.I’ve already posted about the immense and damaging blowback it generated.

Yesterday, the Governor and legislative culture warriors capitulated, amending the law to provide that “religious liberty” cannot be used as a defense when a business or other “provider” discriminates on a laundry list of bases–including sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is the first time in Indiana history that LGBT folks have been explicitly protected by state law. It isn’t quite the same as inclusion in the state civil rights law, but it’s close; after all, virtually all discrimination against LGBT folks is justified by citation to religious belief. If that is no longer a sufficient reason, it’s hard to think what is.

And that gets us back to (very satisfying) karma. Eric Miller, Micah Clark and Curt Smith deliberately set out to inflict gratuitous harm on a marginalized minority. Because they thought they could. Because it would be good for fundraising. Because it would salve their wounded egos. Because they have never understood the fundamental decency of most Hoosiers.

Instead–and as a direct result– gay rights in Indiana have advanced substantially. In addition to the new language in the Indiana Code, a broad coalition has formed to work for inclusion of sexual orientation in state civil rights laws. Businesses throughout Indiana are displaying “We Serve Everyone” signs. And the presumed political power of these smarmy culture warriors has been shown to be largely mythical (can we all say “the emperor has no clothes?)

Karma is so gratifying.



Inviting Pollyanna Back

Okay, I know this blog can be a downer.

I think a lot of the “what the hell is going on here” tone of too many of my posts is due to the fact that I’m a perpetually disappointed optimist. Had I approached life with lower expectations, I might have simply shrugged and moved on, but I have always believed that despite ups and downs, the human trajectory is ultimately a progressive one. Over the past several years, most of the available evidence has seemed to rebut that presumption, so you can see where I might get testy.

That said, the current “Pence mess” in Indiana, believe it or not, has made me cautiously optimistic.

Granted, our elected officials–and especially our utterly clueless Governor–have inflicted significant and totally unnecessary damage on my city and state. Granted, too, the fact that we elected these bozos testifies to widespread abandonment of political engagement by most thoughtful Hoosiers.

But the overwhelming anger and pushback over the passage and signing of the “Religious Freedom Act”–from citizens, from CEOs, from Universities, from mayors, from faith communities–is an incredibly positive occurrence.

Leave aside the contending analyses of what Indiana’s RFRA would or would not do. What is beyond dispute is that this measure was instigated by, and intended to placate, right-wing organizations smarting from their loss on the issue of marriage equality. Its anti-gay symbolism was intentional, and a negative response from LGBT folks and their allies should have been anticipated (although it clearly wasn’t).

The depth and breadth of that response, however, wasn’t foreseeable. Three thousand people turned out to a protest organized a mere two or three days before–many of them people I know who have never before participated in a demonstration. The business community, the civic community, religious communities, the media–rose up as one to say “This mean-spiritedness does not represent us. Hoosiers are better than this.” (And by the way, Governor, insisting that you oppose discrimination rings pretty hollow when you also oppose civil rights for LGBT folks.)

The NCAA and even Nascar have piled on.

Dare I let Pollyanna whisper in my ear once more? Might it be that a period of apathy and resignation, a period when nice people just bemoaned bigotry and “talked amongst themselves” on social media and within more inclusive communities, is coming to an end? Might we be seeing the last throes of the Christian Taliban–those who Molly Ivins memorably called “Shiite Baptists”?

Could we be entering into a “Network” age, when people are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?

I plan to stay tuned…