Protecting religious freedom

Posted by: Courtney Scott  | Friday, March 27, 2015

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a powerful debate taking place at the Statehouse. At the core of this debate is Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This piece of legislation was passed by both the Senate and the House and has since been signed into law by the governor.

You have likely heard me speak in the past about how truly difficult it is for any piece of legislation to become law. In fact, when a legislator introduces a bill, the chances of it dying are much greater than its chances for survival. There are many layers that bills must be vetted through, which is great for Indiana and ensures that only the best policies move forward.

As I do with every topic that comes across my desk, I invested a great deal of time researching what the RFRA does – and alternatively, what it does not do. Now that this is law, I think it is important to clear up some misconceptions that I have been hearing regarding this issue.

First and foremost, I want to emphasize that SEA 101 does not allow, encourage or endorse discrimination. Rather, it will establish a judicial standard of review which protects religious liberties for Hoosiers of all beliefs. 

While this may be a new concept for the state of Indiana, it has actually been around for quite some time at the federal level. In 1993, then President Bill Clinton signed into law the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition, 30 other states, including all that surround Indiana, have some form of religious protection currently in statute.

This standard will guide judges and ensure that decisions affecting religious practices are made uniformly and fairly throughout the state. It will ensure that a government entity does not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, unless they have a compelling interest to do so and it is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest.

Because Indiana is not the first to adopt such a standard, we are able to look towards examples of where this standard has been applied in the past. One instance where this was used happened in 2012 when a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals.

In the 30 other states that have religious protections, there have been no manifestations of discrimination, and my intent in supporting this legislation is not to see that change here in Indiana. Whether we are talking about religion or public health, it is commonly accepted that our rights end when they infringe upon the rights of others. Under this law, every Hoosier, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, will have the ability to invoke these protections and practice their religious beliefs as our founding fathers intended.

When it comes to something as significant as the issue of religious freedom, it is important to go to the source for information and to get involved in the legislative process. The best way to do that is by reading the law itself. I encourage anyone who is interested in doing so to visit our website at iga.in.gov.

-30-