I am sure by now that most of you have heard about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). I want to take this opportunity to provide an explanation about what the law does and does not do.
Indiana’s RFRA gives the state courts a standard of judicial review to use when considering cases dealing with religious freedom. It became apparent that Indiana needed to update our law to protect Hoosiers from the Government’s overreach after the Hobby Lobby case. Under Obamacare, Hobby Lobby’s owners were being forced to fund abortion-inducing drugs for their employees, which was directly against the owners’ religious beliefs. By applying RFRA at the federal level (because Obamacare is a federal mandate) the Supreme Court decided that the Hobby Lobby owners’ right to free exercise of religion was being inhibited, and granted them an exemption from the government requirement.
After consulting with Constitutional law experts from around the country, it was determined that Indiana’s case law and legal precedent were unclear until our state’s RFRA was enacted. This law gives the judicial system specific guidance to help them in their decisions. The federal courts have had a RFRA standard since President Clinton signed it into law in 1993.
It has been argued that Indiana’s RFRA is a license for people to discriminate against others based on religion. The Hobby Lobby case is a good example of why this is not true. RFRA is a judicial guideline for the courts when considering cases in which the government is infringing upon the rights of people to express their religious beliefs, and can only be used in defense against government action. RFRA protects citizens from government overreach. Each individual is entitled to the rights outlined in the state and federal Constitutions, and RFRA does nothing to change that fact. Thirty other states have already enacted similar RFRA statutes or case law, and there has not been an instance in which RFRA could be used to defend discrimination against any individual on any basis, religious or otherwise.
To address the perceptions that came forward after the bill became law, we passed Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 50, which clarifies RFRA’s intent and application. The protections in RFRA and the State Constitution remain intact. SEA 50 simply removes any claim that RFRA can be used for discrimination. Indiana did not allow discrimination before RFRA, and we will not start now.
The legal discussion surrounding this topic can be difficult to wade through, so I want to leave you with a few more examples. It is a rule in U.S. prisons that all male prisoners be clean-shaven. A Muslim prisoner recently requested that he be able to practice his faith by keeping his half-inch beard. The prisoner won the case in federal court because under RFRA the court was able to rule that because his beard was not a threat, the no-beard law was an unreasonable burden on his religious expression.
Another example occurred in Kansas before the state had enacted their RFRA standard. Because of their religious beliefs, Jehovah’s Witnesses are unable to receive blood transfusions. Mary Stinemetz, a Kansas resident and Jehovah’s Witness, desperately needed a liver transplant. The only surgery that did not require blood transfusions was not available in Kansas, and Kansas Medicaid would not allow any unnecessary out-of-state medical treatment. Kansas Medicaid did not believe religious beliefs were a medical necessity, so the case went to court. Because the state had no RFRA standard (and federal RFRA does not apply in state cases), the litigation went on for some time while the courts debated how to interpret the constitution. They eventually ruled in favor of Mary Stinemetz, but sadly she had already passed away. The clear legal standard RFRA provides will prevent situations such as this from happening in Indiana.
I encourage you to stay involved with your government. On our website, www.indianahouserepublicans.com, we have provided additional information about RFRA, along with other helpful information about current legislation. I appreciate your feedback on this and other issues. I can be reached at 317-232-9651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Cherry represents portions of Hancock and Madison counties. He serves as Vice Chairman of Ways and Means. He also serves on the Local Government Committee and the Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee.