Indiana’s RFRA: The smear campaign against Mike Pence and religious freedom

Ignorance, deception, and distortion. That sums up the bulk of the media coverage about the religious freedom bill in Indiana.

Even before this year’s NCAA “Final Four” Basketball Championship in Indianapolis was set, much of the media’s attention had already pivoted to what one pundit called “the nightmare [looming] in Indiana.”

The “nightmare” being referred to was the new Indiana law that – we are being told – “essentially gives Indiana businesses the freedom to discriminate against gays and lesbians.”

“Well, why would Indiana do that?” you might ask. Well, it didn’t. It’s part of a shameless campaign to discredit that state’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law last week.

And so far, the reporting has been somewhere between ignorant and flat-out dishonest.

In the ignorant category you have Charles Barkley’s statement that “As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities.” With all due respect to Mr. Barkley, I doubt he has read Indiana’s law or was aware that 19 other states already have similar laws or that he has considered any legal analysis of what the law actually permits.

And in the dishonest category you have the lion’s share of media coverage touting a hypothetical scenario in which Bible-swinging restaurant owners chase away gay diners  in the same way that Lester Maddox did with an axe handle against African-Americans.

No mention was made of what prompted the enactment of the Indiana law and others like it: Christians being forced, under penalty of law, to participate in ceremonies that violated their religious beliefs.

And hardly any mentioned that Indiana’s law was modeled on the federal 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which found overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans, and was signed into law by President Clinton. And as Governor Pence has pointed out, in 1998, then-state Senator Barack Obama voted in favor of Illinois’ religious freedom legislation.

As Daniel O. Conkle, a law professor at Indiana University, wrote in the Indianapolis Star, the Indiana law “despite all the rhetoric” has “little to do with gay marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.”

And that’s exactly the point Governor Pence tried to make to anyone who would listen.

And here’s something you need to know: Professor Conkle is a supporter of gay rights, including gay marriage. So obviously, not everyone who supports the Indiana law is a “bigot.”

As Conkle points out, “granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld.” In fact, the bill only ensures them of “their day in court.” Once there, they’ll still have to compellingly argue that being required to, say, photograph a gay wedding, is an infringement on their religious freedom that does not serve a compelling governmental interest, or if it does, that this interest could not be furthered in a less intrusive manner. In other words, this bill is no license to discriminate.

Rather, it’s the kind of freedom that Americans have long taken for granted. All Americans, not just Christians. It’s why the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas could wear a half-inch beard.

And yet, an intolerant clique with their media partners would deny millions of Americans this right and excoriate Mike Pence for upholding it. As Eric Metaxas said in a recent email to me about this, we are at a tipping point. It’s game on. And we can’t let the media’s lies go unanswered.

So, three cheers for Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly for standing for the rights of citizens. You may want to send Governor Pence a supportive message. I bet he could use one right about now.

John Stonestreet


— John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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