According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, there's "something very dangerous happening" nationwide as states such as Indiana pass religious-freedom laws that emulate the federal act signed in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton after Sen. Ted Kennedy helped introduce it and the New York Times wholeheartedly endorsed it.
For Cook, a self-declared homosexual, the legislation is designed to "discriminate," but even some advocates of "gay rights" insist the law is meant only to preserve rights already enshrined in the First Amendment for the benefit of all citizens.
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Explaining he is a same-sex marriage supporter, Daniel O. Conkle, a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, writes in a guest op-ed in the Indianapolis Star that "as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act."
Conkle writes that "despite all the rhetoric," the bill "has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom."
He explained that the federal government and 31 states already have adopted the "compelling interest" legal standard at the center of the Indiana law that is used to evaluate laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion.
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"Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security," Conkle notes. "Likewise, in a 2012 decision, 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 city parks."
He explains that granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld, pointing out claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in states that have adopted the RFRA test.
"In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination," he writes. "The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land.
"It is anything but a 'license to discriminate,' and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis."
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Nevertheless, the opposition to the Indiana law and the Republican governor who signed it, Mike Pence, has been fierce, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, and at least six other governors or mayors banning all non-essential, state-funded travel to Indiana.
Portland, Oregon, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Pence and the Indiana Legislature "have to understand that such blatant discrimination against their own citizens cannot stand."
"We, as a country, have moved so far from those shameful practices of the past," the mayor said.
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There also was talk of moving NCAA's basketball Final Four from Indianapolis to another location on short notice, and Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was criticized by a CNN host and guest for refusing to offer his opinion on the law and instead concentrate on his team's participation in the Final Four. Tuesday night, scathing criticism began to mount against a Christian family that owns a pizza shop in Indiana when an ABC affiliate apparently went fishing for a business that hypothetically would refuse to cater a same-sex ceremony if asked.
In contrast, talk-radio host Tammy Bruce said Wednesday in a tweet: "As a gay woman, I'm appalled by GOP inability to defend religious freedom & disgusted by how liberal gays have turned into common bullies."
On her radio show Wednesday, she reacted to the report of the Indiana pizza shop owners.
"The left is trying to burn down businesses that do not comply," Bruce told her radio listeners.
She pointed out that the businesses owned by religious believers that have been targeted in lawsuits have not turned away gays, "they're just not going to cater or facilitate weddings."
Bruce juxtaposed the outcry by the homosexual rights activists opposing the Indiana law with their virtual silence about atrocities against homosexuals in the Middle East.
"If you're more worried about whether someone is going to bake you a cake, because everything's got to be about you, than you are about child weddings with terrorists, the flogging of rape victims and the murder of gays by the state, you've got your priorities a little screwed up," she told her listeners.
Chastising the media, she wrote in a tweet: "Pizza shop that won't cater a gay wedding is bigger news than Iranian official restating their intent to wipe Israel off the map. Got it."
WND sought the view of Camille Paglia, a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia who describes herself as a lesbian and a "dissident feminist." She was unavailable for comment, but she made an observation about the broader cultural context in an interview with Reason last month.
Paglia said that among her students "there's this new obsession with where you are on this wide gender spectrum."
"That view of gender seems to me to be unrealistic because it's so divorced from any biological referent," she said. "I do believe in biology, and I say the first paragraph of 'Sexual Personae' that sexuality is an intricate intersection of nature and culture, but what's happened now is that the way the universities are teaching, it's nothing but culture and nothing's from biology."
"It's madness! It's a form of madness, because women who want to marry and have children are going to have to encounter their own hormonal realities at a certain point," she said.
Paul Kengor, professor of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, told WND he found the public outcry against the Indiana law disturbing but said it doesn't surprise him.
"This is what happens to a country and culture that has lost respect for religion, for religious values, for religious freedom and for religious believers," said Kengor, who also is executive director of the Center for Vision & Values and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.
"We have entered post-Christian America, an aggressively secular period where secular people angrily steamroll the religious rights and beliefs of people they disagree with," he said. "And amazingly, they do so in the name of 'tolerance' and 'diversity,' seeing no contradiction whatsoever."
Kengor pointed to the "influence of our educational system, Hollywood, the media, and the utterly toxic impact of social media."
'I ask these people who pride themselves in their tolerance: Do you really want to compel some old lady to make a wedding cake for a gay couple that violates her understanding of the Bible? Do you really want to force her shaking and trembling hand, under compulsion by the state, to make a cake that she feels violates her understanding of how God defined marriage? Please picture in your mind what that would literally look like. Imagine it. Picture it. Visualize that process. Picture that woman. Does that give you satisfaction? Is that really what you want? I know you think she’s a vile bigot. I get it. But do you truly want to force her?"
In Richland, Washington, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed were longtime customers of Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers. But when they asked Stutzman to provide flowers for their same-sex ceremony in 2013 after the state's new marriage law went into effect, she informed them she couldn't do it.
In a deposition, Stutzman said, “I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding.”
The couple, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the state's Attorney General's office then sued under the state's anti-discrimination laws and its consumer protection laws.
In February, a state judge rejected Stutzman’s contention that her flower arrangements should be considered a form of protected free speech and contended the state sued to “make an example” of her. The judge determined her “relationship with Jesus” was not enough to justify her refusal to provide the flowers. Days later, Stutzman rejected a settlement offer from Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson of a $2,000 penalty, a $1 payment for court and legal fees and an agreement “not to discriminate in the future.”
Stutzman replied that the offer essentially was asking her to betray Jesus, like Judas, for "30 pieces of silver."
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about," she told the AG in a letter. "It’s about freedom, not money.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh, on his nationally syndicated show Wednesday, suggested the opposition to the Indiana law is motivated by the 2016 presidential election, calling it a "political issue" that "does not have a solution because the people that are stirring things up do not want there to be a solution."
"If you had 10 bakeries in a neighborhood and only one of them was operated by devout Christians, why would you choose that one to go to? I think we all know the answer to these questions. I'm just asking them," he said.
Other recent cases that have spotlighted the issue include:
- Colorado baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who has been ordered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to provide a cake for a couple's same-sex ceremony in violation of his Christian beliefs.
- The Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the city is demanding the business's Christian ministers perform same-sex ceremonies.
- In New Mexico, courts ordered photographer Elaine Huguenin, co-owner with her husband, Jonathan, of Elane Photography, to use her talents to memorialize a same-sex ceremony.
'Fear and myth'
Michael J. DeBoer, a licensed Indiana attorney who has served as an Indiana Supreme Court law clerk and has taught Indiana constitutional law, says opponents of the law have not "displayed a commitment to accuracy in their communications about the legislation," instead rallying opposition "based upon misunderstanding and misinformation, upon fear and myth."
"As a consequence, many are uninformed and misinformed about the legislation," he said. "Undoubtedly, there are some who are knowingly distorting and mischaracterizing the legislation, and there are others who are motivated by a deep-seated hostility to faiths that are both believed privately and lived publicly."
Amid the backlash, Pence told reporters Tuesday he would "fix" the law to clarify that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays, but he maintained the problem isn't the law itself but how it's perceived, referring to "the smear" leveled against it.
"Was I expecting this kind of backlash? Heavens, no," he said. "Candidly, when this erupted last week, even though I made my position clear weeks ago that I would sign the bill without much discussion, I was taken aback. And I have to tell you, that the gross mischaracterizations about this bill early on and some of the reckless reporting by some in the media about what this bill was all about, was deeply disappointing."
DeBoer affirmed that 20 of the 50 states have enacted RFRAs, and another 11 states have interpreted their state constitutions to provide religious freedom protection similar to that provided in RFRAs.
He emphasized the states are scattered throughout the nation, and they include Illinois, whose RFRA was signed by then-state Sen. Barack Obama.
The 1993 federal law, he pointed out, had virtually unanimous support in Congress. When President Clinton signed it, he observed that the "free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights."
The Founders, Clinton said, knew "there needed to be a space of freedom between government and people of faith that otherwise government might usurp."
Another champion of the legislation was the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
“Few issues are more fundamental to our country. America was founded as a land of religious freedom and a haven from religious persecution," Kennedy said. "Two centuries later, that founding principle has been endangered."
Indiana law different?
Some critics have seized on particular aspects of Indiana's law, insisting that it is substantially different than the others.
The Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to the free exercise of religion, which was affirmed recently by the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Hobby Lobby case. And it says a person whose religious freedom has or is likely to be substantially burdened can claim a defense regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding, which also has been upheld by courts.
The law, nevertheless, is not significantly different from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act or other state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, argues the Heritage Foundation.
"Indiana’s law states clearly what multiple federal courts have interpreted federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to mean. It is not ambiguous and those who are describing it as an ominous new development with untold consequences are misreading the plain text of the law and the long legal history of Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s commonsense protections."
The law, the Heritage Foundation explains, essentially prohibits the government "from substantially burdening religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest and does so through the least restrictive way possible."
The protections, Heritage says, apply to individual people and to the organizations they form, including schools, charities and businesses.
The Indiana law does allow corporations to sue the government, but so does the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also does not allow private citizens to sue each other.