Religious freedom is a matter everyone should care about

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

Over the past couple of weeks, you have likely heard a great deal of discussion regarding Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). As a widely publicized issue, many constituents have reached out to me with questions and concerns regarding this legislation. Unfortunately, it seems that much of the confusion on this topic stems from misinformation presented by both sides on this issue, so today, I would like to address some of those misconceptions.

While Article 1, Section 3 of the Indiana Constitution provides that no law shall, in any case, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, our state courts have lacked guidance for reviewing cases that come under those protections. 

In 1993, then President Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA into law, after it was almost unanimously passed through Congress. However, four years later, the Supreme Court ruled that that act did not apply to states that do not have a religious freedom statute. Since that time, many states have taken note. In fact, there are currently 30 other states, including the four states surrounding Indiana, that have adopted this statute.

By signing Indiana’s RFRA into law, we now have an established judicial standard of review. This standard will provide the courts with clear guidance on how to resolve any matters that come forth surrounding religious freedom and will protect the rights of all Hoosiers, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

You may still be wondering what this all really means, so to put it into perspective, I would like to share an example of a time when RFRA has been applied outside of Indiana. You are likely familiar with the debate regarding Obamacare and Hobby Lobby. But did you know that RFRA played a role in that judgment?

Under Obamacare, Hobby Lobby was required to pay for employees’ abortion-inducing drugs. The U. S. Supreme Court, however, concluded that RFRA entitled the owners to an exemption from the regulation because this religious accommodation would not require any of the female employees to do without. With RFRA now on the books in Indiana, it will assure that our state courts follow the same reasoning that the federal courts and 30 other states follow when issues such as this arise in the future.

It is also important to note that in the 22 years of this standard being applied at the federal and state level, discrimination has never materialized. In reality, many Hoosiers will likely never notice a difference, unless the government is overstepping its bounds in trying to restrict them from practicing their religious beliefs.

The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is nothing more than a way to protect communities against governmental action, something that I believe was part of the framework of our nation’s inception. I strongly believe that this law is not about discrimination, rather it is about tolerance: tolerance for every Hoosier of every faith.

If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to read the bill by visiting our website at iga.in.gov. In addition, if you would like further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact my office by phone at 317-232-9833 or by email at h67@iga.in.gov.

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