Freedom of Religion or Freedom to Discriminate?

April 23, 2015

Indiana’s new Religious Freedom law has been garnering controversy over what it really stands for. Opponents say that it calls for the right to discriminate, not religious freedom that it so claims. What do you think? Read our responses and vote below!

FREEDOM OF RELIGION?

Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act sets a guideline for courts to follow when dealing with cases related to religious freedom. However, the criticism and backlash against the act have deemed it representative of prejudice and discrimination against the LGBT community. This is not the case.

Contrary to common belief, the RFRA does not give the people of Indiana the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. If that was the main intent, there never would have been a need for the law in the first place. Indiana indeed has an anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, gender, or religion, but nowhere does it ever mention sexual orientation. Yet, not often do you see restaurant owners refusing to serve gays or hospitals shipping gays off to a separate facility because of religious convictions. The law is solely aimed to defend people or businesses from participating in certain events that go against their religious beliefs and freedoms.

Recently, businesses have been under fire for refusing to take part in certain events and have received fines from the government. Common examples are the florist who was sued for $1,000 for refusing to provide floral decorations for a gay wedding and the photographer who was fined $7,000 for refusing to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. In response, the RFRA dictates that courts must have a basis to deem their trials on for future cases regarding decisions like this. This doesn’t mean that those who refuse to conduct business will win every time, as the overall outcome will ultimately be based on the court’s decision.

So is refusing to take part in providing services like a gay wedding really an act of discrimination?

Discrimination should be clear when we see it, yet if we were to look at the public’s opinion, as measured by an Associated Press poll, 57 percent agreed that wedding-related businesses should be allowed to deny service to gay couples and 85 percent supported wedding photographers’ right to refuse to shoot same-sex weddings, on grounds of opposing religious convictions.

It’s obvious in many cases that the reason for a business to refuse service isn’t based on hatred for gays, but rather a deep conflict between their own religious beliefs. The gay couple that the florist refused to provide wedding decorations for was a longtime customer of the flower shop. The bakery that was fined $15,000 by the state for refusing to bake a wedding cake wasn’t refusing to serve a gay couple, but was refusing to take part in an event that contradicted and violated its religious beliefs.

In the same way that the lifestyle of the LGBT community should be respected, people with individual religious beliefs should be allowed to have their own voice and say. If we were to force individuals to act against the things they hold dearest to their faith for the benefit of another group, then this country really wouldn’t be nearly as free and equal as we thought it was.

FREEDOM TO DISCRIMINATE?

All men are created equal. Or are they? The governor of Indiana recently signed an updated version of the state’s religious freedom act, which essentially allowed business owners to refuse service to the LGBT community due to religious reasons. The law, which has been condemned by many including Indianapolis’ mayor, was revised to prohibit antigay discrimination in response to backlash. Even so, the inception of the law itself was a sad and unjustifiable regression of tolerance.

People have the right to believe what they want to believe. The freedom of religion is guaranteed in the First Amendment. However, business should not be mingled with personal beliefs. Most employers are taught to leave their personal feelings behind at work and to serve everyone, no matter their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation, with the utmost respect. For an anti-gay marriage baker, baking a cake for a gay wedding should be no different than baking one for a heterosexual one. Baking a cake is not necessarily condoning or participating in the gay marriage itself; it is merely for business purposes and should remain as such. In addition, the law opens the floodgates to inestimable hypotheticals. For instance, if a pizza owner does not believe in vaccinations due to religious reasons, does that give him the right to refuse service to those who are vaccinated? Can a teacher refuse to teach a student with married gay parents? What about a person born through in vitro fertilization? Where is the line drawn?

By allowing business owners to refuse service based on sexual orientation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a blatant violation of human rights. For instance, a florist in rural Georgia refuses to sell to gay patrons but will sell to adulterers because homosexuality is “a different kind of sin.” This woman’s religious defense for what is actually genuine bigotry is just one example of how misguided this law can be. Unjustifiably refusing service to the LGBT community is eerily akin to the intolerable exclusion of African Americans by white businesses decades ago. The act is a poorly disguised legal discrimination and a slap in the face to every civil rights leader and everything they stood for. The fact that treating innocent people as second-class citizens is still a reality in 2015 is frightening. Disagreeing with someone’s way of life is one thing but discriminating against them—degrading them—in the name of God is delusional and pathetic.

While the extent of religious freedom has always been a sticky topic, Indiana’s divisive new act is borderline bigotry masked by an insincere plea for religious liberty. The new law has no place among the rising tolerance in society and will reverse the years of progress fought for human rights. Freedom of religion may be considered a fundamental right but people must not forget that all men are created equal. Indiana’s action is a terrifying precedent that the progressive mindset of the millennial can easily regress back to the brutal, discriminatory mentality of the 1960s.

What do you believe Indiana's Religious Freedom Law is calling for?

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