RFRA in Indiana: A Last Gasp of Bigotry in a Lost Culture War

Pence

From what I can tell, no one really wants the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be signed into law, with the exception of the lawmakers who passed it. To be honest, I think at this point even they probably just wish they’d left well enough alone and not bothered.

Here’s what I think has happened. I think our representatives in state government are predominantly old, white men who are angry that the world is changing. They see their privilege and status being upended by a society that is changing the rules quickly, largely due to the democratizing power of the internet. They don’t understand this new world, they don’t see how they will be useful in it, and this frightens them.

Their response is to try to mandate the perpetuation of their culture by codifying their world as they understand it into law. Remember, it was only 2004 that George Bush’s re-election was largely attributed to ‘values voters’. Their primary value, of course, being opposition to recognizing the dignity of our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors.

Indiana’s state legislators still live in this world. In their minds, they must protect our children from being ‘turned gay’ by the homosexual agenda. They must defend those ‘Christians’ who are sure that God despises homosexuals. No, enough is enough. Somehow, these brave state legislators are all that stands between us and the wrath of God and they will not let society be destroyed by these Godless liberals, not on their watch.

What these legislators have failed to realize is that in the decade or so since that election, the world changed. Many gay people stopped hiding in the shadows. They decided to stop apologizing, stop pretending to be someone they are not.

A funny thing then happened in American culture. Almost all at once, it seemed that everyone actually knew a gay person. More surprisingly for many, that gay person was an aunt, a cousin, a coworker, a friend, an old college roommate. It was someone they absolutely knew to be a good, moral, and kind person. And in short order, a very large number of Americans began to question the narrative of gay people as evil fornicators intent on recruiting your children to the homosexual lifestyle. Scientific studies began to debunk much of what we had been told about the nature of homosexuality.

And that brings us to today. Most Americans have ‘evolved’ on the issue of same-gender marriage, to use President Obama’s terminology. Most Americans believe that LGBT people should have the right to visit their spouse or partner in the hospital, receive death benefits, and be treated equally under the law. Most Americans now see members of the LGBT community as *gasp* actual people.

Indiana state legislators, apparently, are not like most Americans. They see our gay neighbors, family, and friends as ‘other’. Gay people are not worthy of the same treatment afforded to other Americans, or even other humans. They are fundamentally different in a way that renders them subhuman. Our legislators have made it clear that their view is this: “If you want to live with gay people, fine. But no one is going to tell me that I have to serve them a meal, treat their illness, or sell them a truck.”

If I believe my religion says gay people are viewed by my God as an abomination, then I should not have to recognize them as anything but that. To treat them the same as I treat anyone else is to bestow a recognition of their humanity that violates my conscience, angers my God, and places my eternal soul in jeopardy, according to these arguments.

Of course these same arguments have been used to justify prejudice and bigotry throughout history. Listen to the slave-owner in 12 Years A Slave reciting biblical scripture to explain their subjugation. It was disgusting then and it’s every bit as disgusting now.

Governor Mike Pence and our Indiana legislators who voted to pass SB 101 know they have lost. They know that our society has already accepted things they cannot conceive. It’s the reason they were desperate to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage before the tide turned completely against them. That attempt failed and it’s not been mentioned since, I assume because they know it will never again have a chance of passing.

The failure of that law to make it to a ballot measure enraged many conservatives. As a result, I think legislators felt a need to demonstrate that they were still fighting on this issue. The Hobby Lobby decision opened up an avenue for them to save face on the basis of advocating for ‘religious freedom’. Who doesn’t love religious freedom?

I think they thought they would pass this bill and it would give them a badge of honor they could wear when visiting their bigoted constituents with lots of money. Unfortunately, they underestimated public sentiment, the new voice of progressive faith communities, and the economic impact of this decision on our state. The probable loss of GenCon is just one example of the millions of dollars of lost business we will see because of this publicity stunt.

The sad thing is, this law is completely unnecessary in every respect. Don’t believe me? Ask 111 Cakery if they were ever forced to make that cake for a gay commitment ceremony they felt violated their beliefs. Spoiler: They weren’t.

Now Indiana, which has worked so hard to shed the image of a cultural backwater, is back to being portrayed as a bunch of bigoted rednecks. That’s not who Hoosiers are, despite our troubled past with racism.

To the rest of America, I ask you not to judge our state by the actions of our representatives. Get to know us as individuals and you will find that we are not the monsters you might imagine. That approach helped America see the LGBT community as people worthy of dignity and respect, despite their reputation; maybe it will work for Hoosiers as well.


Update: Think I’m wrong about this being a consolation prize to advocates of banning gay marriage? Guess who these groups represent:

Rachel Held Evans on Jesus, Religious Liberty, and Discrimination

I recently wrote about the owners of 111 Cakery refusing to make a cake for a gay couple’s commitment ceremony. The owners of that business should really read this post from Rachel Held Evans. Like, stop making cakes for five minutes and read it now. From Ms. Evans’ blog post:

But what I want to address here is whether followers of Jesus should devote their time and efforts to rallying in support of legislation that would empower business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian people  (many of whom are fellow Christians, by the way)…

[A]s Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death. 

So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people. 

And I think that refusing to serve gay and lesbian people, and advancing legislation that denies others their civil liberties in response to perceived threats to our own, does irreparable damage to our witness as Christians and leaves a whole group of people feeling like second-class citizens, not only in our country, but also in the Kingdom.

I think it’s important to note that Ms. Evans is writing this from an evangelical Christian point of view. After watching the documentary Jesus Camp last night, I’m relieved to know that not everyone shares the Jesus Camp mentality of being literal ‘Christian warriors.’

I also hope that this experience has invited the owners of 111 Cakery to reconsider their actions toward those they disagree with and to see their work as an expression of love for all of their neighbors, not an endorsement of each activity for which they bake. I think if they are truly open to their faith, they will find much to like in Ms. Evans’ thoughts.

Indiana, get it together. Kentucky is kicking our ass.

It pains me to write this. I have been brought up with a love of Indiana basketball that requires me to despise not only Kentucky Wildcats basketball, but the Commonwealth of Kentucky overall. I have been faithful to that requirement for a long time. Hell, it’s been easy most of the time. Lately though…

Kentucky

Kentucky has looked like a progressive paradise while Indiana looks like a political haven for rednecks and hillbillies. Kentucky looked at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), saw opportunities, and created a state exchange that works. They expanded Medicaid (the link is worth reading), ensuring more of their citizens would get health insurance. A federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must recognize gay marriages performed in states where they are legal. Then the attorney general decided not to appeal that ruling.

Yes, you read that correctly. Kentucky did all of those things. Just watch the KY Attorney General get emotional discussing his decision:

And what are we doing in Indiana? Reader, I’m ashamed to even tell you.

In Indiana, our lawmakers hitched up their britches, spit their tobaccy and shouted YEE-HAW a few times before  trying everything they could to get a same-sex marriage and civil union ban to the voters. They failed, thankfully. By the way, gay marriage is still illegal in the Hoosier state and some people won’t even sell gay couples a cake to celebrate their commitment to love each other, even though that commitment’s not legally binding!

We heard the ACA granted states the opportunities to devise their own solutions to increasing coverage of the poor and enrollment of our citizens. Instead of doing that, we sued to stop the ACA and failed. Then we sued to prevent our own residents from receiving subsidies and failed. At that point, we just lamented the ‘federal takeover’ and went with healthcare.gov while other states created their own solutions (ahem, like Kentucky).

We also refused to expand Medicaid. What does this mean? It means we’re paying to subsidize the states who aren’t in a pissing contest with President Obama and who accepted Medicaid expansion. It means that instead of our state’s tax dollars coming back to us to help give those Hoosiers living in poverty health insurance, we still pay the same amount but it goes to other states. Oh, and we still have to find a way to pay for health care for those who would have been covered by Medicaid expansion.

Read This: Medicaid Expansion: a case of the Kentucky ‘haves’ and the Indiana ‘have-nots’

In other news, the state legislature FINALLY passes a mass transit bill and Governor Pence isn’t sure he wants to sign it. Four state legislators are considering legal action because Ball State University is prohibiting a professor from teaching Intelligent Design theory in a SCIENCE class.

Look, no one loves the Hoosier state more than I do. I love this state and I especially love Indianapolis. But we can do better. I never thought I’d say I envy Kentucky but they are upholding the dignity of their citizens while our lawmakers seek to institutionalize discrimination. They are finding ways to help their vulnerable populations while we are dragged kicking and screaming to the children’s table for those who won’t participate in the process.

Get it together, Indiana.

TL;DR: Kentucky is expanding Medicaid, recognizing same-sex marriages, and making the ACA work. Indiana is… not. Let’s leave it at that.

Let Them Eat Cake! (As long as it’s not from 111 Cakery)

I know today is Pi Day, but let’s talk cake. There’s a bit of a kerfuffle here in Indy this week, as the owner of 111 Cakery declined to provide a cake for a same-sex couple’s ceremony; she just couldn’t possibly be inspired to create the best cake ever, due to her beliefs. To her credit, she did offer to help them with anything else. Would they like a cookie, perhaps?

I have 3 problems with 111 Cakery:

  1. Comic Sans is their choice of font for their website. Ugh.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers and Boston Celtics cakes are featured on their website. We have teams here. They are the Colts and the Pacers.
  3. 111 Cakery chose to locate its business in one of the most gay-friendly neighborhoods in the city, yet they don’t want to sell gay people cake. At least, not unless the owners of 111 Cakery approves of the occasion. From their statement: We have happily done cakes for gay people, as well as people with different believes. [sic]

So gay birthday parties are ok, but not wedding ceremonies? Their statement notes they will also not provide cakes for themes with alcohol, again based on their beliefs. This must be a strange and arbitrary checklist they have for ordering a cake. How deeply do they investigate your personal life to determine if you are worthy of one of these special cakes?

Granted, it’s their business, they can operate it how they see fit. I have a feeling that in the near future, they won’t be able to refuse service based on the sexual orientation of their clients but until then I guess it’s their right. It’s also the right of others to be sure prospective clients know 111 Cakery’s views.

To be clear, the issue isn’t that the owner of 111 Cakery disagrees with gay marriage (which isn’t even legal in our state). People buy things from each other every day without endorsing each other’s views. The issue here is that the owner of 111 Cakery feels the need to submit each customer to a religious test to determine whether or not they feel ‘inspired’ to serve them. If the customer doesn’t pass the test, then s/he doesn’t get cake.

Plenty of other business owners respect the dignity of all people. They will even sell a cake to you, regardless of whether or not they feel ‘inspired’ to do so. Buy your cakes from them.