Indiana: Tell Your State Representative to Reject RFRA, Which Would Put Religion Above the Law

March 9, 2015

The Indiana Senate has just passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a bill that places religious beliefs and practices above the law — and we need your help to stop the House from approving this harmful proposal before it reaches the governor’s desk. 

Freedom of religion has always been protected in Indiana by both the state Constitution and the United States Constitution. Further, Indiana’s Civil Rights Law of 1971 prohibits discrimination based on religion, and provides certain exemptions for religious organizations.

The proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not about protecting the rights of religious individuals, but instead distorting the concept of religious freedom to allow religious institutions and believers to have their religious views limit the freedom of others. It provides for a “broad protection of religious exercise,” which will allow institutions and believers to avoid complying with general laws simply by claiming it “substantially burdens” their religious beliefs in some way.

This bill is modeled directly on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a problematic statute that was recently extended by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case to allow for-profit corporations the right to claim religious freedom. This means corporations can now claim exemptions from laws that apply to everyone else if they claim their religion is impacted — even if such an exemption removes a right from an innocent third party.

Fortunately, the federal RFRA’s reach is limited by another Supreme Court decision to only federal actions. However, the Indiana RFRA would enable for-profit businesses in Indiana to claim exemptions from state laws in exactly the same way as Hobby Lobby.

For example, under this bill, Indiana could be powerless to prevent:

  • Health care providers from denying services, such as prescribing birth control or AIDS medication, due to their religiously based objections;
  • Child care providers and parents from making decisions about children’s health care according to their own conceptions of “religious faith,” instead of accepted scientific standards of safety and public health;
  • School officials from being rendered helpless against bullying if the bully bases their abuse of other students on their own religious beliefs;
  • Religious organizations that receive taxpayer dollars from discriminating in hiring and providing benefits;
  • Religious employees from claiming all manner of exemptions from generally applicable workplace laws;
  • Religious employers from discriminating against workers who have different views on religion or are LGBTQ.

The Center for Inquiry has always defended, and will always defend, freedom of religion and conscience for all. But the Indiana RFRA does not protect those freedoms. Instead, this bill places religion on a pedestal, and allows individuals and profit making corporations to use it as an excuse to disobey laws everyone else must follow. That’s not restoring religious freedom, that’s enshrining a preference for religion. And as a result, the equal rights of all Indiana citizens, religious and secular, would be at risk.

This proposed law isn’t just unnecessary — it’s dangerous. CFI urges you to join others in contacting your state representative now and telling them to oppose this bill!

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