INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Christians are expressing disappointment after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a clarification to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Thursday that prohibits businesses from declining services relating to homosexual ceremonies.
As previously reported, last week, Gov. Mike Pence signed SB 101 into law in a closed ceremony, with an estimated 70 t0 80 invited guests attending the event. The bill was meant to mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in the 1990’s by then-President Bill Clinton.
“A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” it reads.
After signing the legislation, Pence cited the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby abortion pill case, and noted that while a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act exists, the law does not cover state action.
“Last year, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action,” he said. “In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those states [who have passed local legislation] and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.”
However, homosexual activists and advocates soon rose up against Pence, asserting that the bill made provision for Christians and others to discriminate against homosexuals. Hundreds rallied outside of the Indiana state house last Saturday in opposition to the law, and op-eds quickly were published online decrying the Act as being bigoted. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) even announced that he was banning state-funded travel to Indiana, as did Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
While Pence said that the bill had been “grossly misconstrued” by homosexual activists and the media and made to be an issue about homosexuality rather than a response to the Hobby Lobby decision, he said that the “mischaracterization” now “might make it necessary … to clarify the law through legislation.”
Therefore, lawmakers proposed a clarification to the bill that prohibits business owners from declining to fulfill orders pertaining to the homosexual lifestyle.
“This chapter does not: authorize a provider to refuse to offer services, facilities or use of public accommodations, employment or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of sex, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service,” it reads.
The legislation also states that it does not “establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider” to oblige the request, removing protections from Christians in court. While the bill exempts churches and non-profit religious organizations from the law, it does not do so for business owners of faith.
On Thursday, the Indiana House approved the RFRA clarification by a vote of 66-30, and the Senate likewise passed the amendment 34-16. The addition then went to Pence, who signed the language into law.
“I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law,” he said. “In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation. For that I will be forever grateful.”
Pence also stated that he supported the added language since it provided protections for churches and religious organizations, as well as “groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing.”
But some Christian groups disagree that the amendment was needed in the first place, and are expressing their disappointment in both the Indiana legislature and Gov. Pence, who is a professing Christian.
“This proposal would force religious businesses and even nonprofits deemed ‘not religious enough’ to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs,” said Tony Perkins of Family Research Council Thursday prior to the vote. “If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control.”
“Christian bakers, florists and photographers … no longer have the benefit of Indiana law to help protect them from being forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding,” also lamented Eric Miller, founder and executive director of Advance America.
Some Christians view serving as a photographer or florist for a same-sex ceremony as a type of participation in the event, thus violating 1 Timothy 5:22, which forbids followers of Christ from being a “partaker in other men’s sins.”
The Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom said that the added language to the law “unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance.”
“It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country,” said Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “Surrendering to deception and economic blackmail never results in good policy.”
“If a Christian vendor can be forced to collaborate with an unmitigated evil, like assisting with a homosexual marriage, then the law and religious freedom has no meaning,” Red State commented. “In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court acknowledged that even a closely held corporation cannot be compelled to violate its religious beliefs. Why private citizens should not have the same rights, and be able to enforce those rights when harassed and bullied … is a mystery.”
A Rasmussen poll released on Tuesday finds that 70% of Americans “agree that a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage has the right to turn down working a job at such a wedding.” A WPA opinion research poll also found that “government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.”
“The Indiana controversy reveals what we have known about the homosexual lobby. Homosexual advocates have no tolerance for religious freedom,” said Mat Staver of Liberty Council. “This is a zero sum game with a winner and a loser, and the homosexual lobby has no room for religious freedom or people of conscience who disagree.”