Why Is This 'Religious Freedom Restoration Bill' So Controversial?

| by Arthur Kogan
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A proposed bill in Indiana that has passed the Senate and is making its way through the House has been nothing short of controversial.

Senate Bill 101 is aimed to provide “religious freedom restoration.” Here is exactly what the bill says:

Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law.

Many people feel that this bill is intended to shield religious practices, whereas those who oppose the bill claim it will essentially legalize discrimination – particularly against gay people.

"Beware things that claim to restore what already exists," Christian Theological Seminary President Matthew Myer Boulton told the Indy Star.

Boulton added that he is already enjoying religious liberty. "We have to stand as people of faith against any claim that anyone is second-class."

This proposed bill has created tension among members and leaders of various religious groups. There is no question that all religions have differing perspectives on homosexuality and all practice their beliefs in different ways.

"I don't think the Jewish community is monolithic on this particular issue," said David Sklar, director of government affairs for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council.

Still, the council is taking a stance against the religious freedom bill, he said, because "we're afraid RFRA is going to potentially cloud the situation and further entangle religion with the state and with the court system."

"We feel like there are adequate protections for religious minorities," he added. "We are able to practice the way that we want and have the ability to do that now — and have the ability to ensure that there is proper freedom in the future."

According to The Courier-Journal, opponents say the state's religious freedom proposal also could be used to refuse service to an unmarried man and woman sitting together in a restaurant, or to a woman with an uncovered head — if that goes against business owners' religious beliefs. This has been an issue across the nation as business owners have refused to provide wedding services for gay couples in the past.

"There are those who want to say if I were to refuse to do a gay wedding that I am discriminating," said Pastor Tim Overton, who isn’t so sure that his religious rights would be preserved. "I don't think I should be compelled to use my speech to support someone else's speech.

"A lot of times," he added, "people think pastors are free to do whatever they want. And we're not. We're under the Lord. We're only free to do what he wants us to do.

"When you're told as a business by the government you have to provide a service, and that service is in violation of your core convictions, that is a problem," Overton said.

Some critics argue that SB 101 has only taken the state of Indiana a few steps backwards. If you are running a public business, you should work for the public without making exceptions. SB 101 will allow, for example, a Christian pastor to not serve a gay, interracial, unmarried, Jewish, Muslim or any other individual if they feel it is against their religious beliefs. Many critics of this bill feel it will continue to split and cause separations between various religions and their followers throughout Indiana.

Religious beliefs can stand against many things – but rather than standing against those who have different values, it is time to stand for the beliefs that will bring us together and unite us as a people rather than pushing us away further.

"The challenge for all of us is to love even across those lines of difference," said Boulton, the Christian Theological Seminary President. He referenced a parallel idea in the Quran:

"Want for your brother or sister what you would want for yourself."

Sources: Indiana General Assembly, Indystar, Indystar (2), The Courier-Journal  

Photo Source: Wikmedia