"This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. I could have handled that better this week," Mike Pence
Mike Pence, the governor of my home state of Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and now the world up in arms. I don’t like the law, (read the text of the law here) and yet I support Mike Pence. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. What Pence was trying to do was, I believe, simply this: be certain that the state government does not infringe on the rights of people, not make it legal for anyone to deny service to minorities, which is why he signed the law.
Of course there was instant backlash, many saying it would allow people to discriminate based on sexual orientation. But let’s take another look, shall we?
I, like Pence, abhor discrimination, he saying so himself many times in recent days. Disagree, fine, I disagree with a lot of people. But discrimination goes against everything that America has been fighting for in the long march from failing to outlaw slavery in the constitution to now. My grandparent’s generation spent too long fighting that battle from the Bridges of Selma to the chambers of Washington to turn back now, and let segregation back in. “Separate but Equal” cannot and must not be resurrected.
If that were what Pence were trying to do, I would support a bid to oust him tomorrow from his office. But it isn’t. He is trying to defend something that is near and dear to the heart of American ideals: the freedom to practice religion in your own way, from Muslims to Christians to Hindus, everyone has the right to worship. This is not giving you the right to deny service to people because you don’t like the cut of their jib, the color of their skin, or the religion of their choice.
The law states that “…a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability…” So, like, the First Amendment. The last bit is, it seems, (and I’m guessing many critics, and maybe even many supporters have not actually read it) what everyone is up in a lather about. For it could be read to mean that businesses could discriminate. And as Pence said, he could have handled that bit better, as the painfully written law could be interpreted in a lot of ways.
Fortunately, Brian Bosma, the speaker of our Indiana Legislature, (a nice guy, by the way) is going forward with plans to fix this mistake, and I hope he does it quick. In the meantime, the law was well meaning, and an important step, but a misstep, none the less, if it could in any way be read to mean that people can look someone up and down when they walk into their restaurant and say “Nope, can’t come in here.”
But there is something that angry, almost screaming articles from the likes of a paper I respect, the British Guardian, or the shrieking protestors have missed, that the law also protects from another type of discrimination, that of the government against its citizens, especially religious ones. This is basic stuff, which is maybe why it was made the Amendment #1. And that is that people have the right to believe the way they want, and the government cannot force them not to, unless of course they are a danger to the public safety, (the law mentions that). These opponents need to calm down before some of them explode.
Of course, some people might think that this freedom of religion gives them the right to discriminate about who they serve, which it doesn’t. And if they feel so strongly about it, they should get into another business. This is about keeping the government off the citizens. Pence must and probably will make that very clear in the coming days with news legislation, protecting the liberty of all citizens, to believe the way they want, and be served where they want, no matter what.
Andrew C. Abbott