A Mess in the Midwest: Indiana Under Fire

Because of the diverse and welcome society we live in here on the Island, it is hard to imagine communities with prevalent discrimination against sexual orientation. Many of us are accustomed to liberal decisions and outlooks regarding legislation on sexual orientation, but this new Indiana Law is certainly not. Much pressure has been put onto Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, to approve the act. Objectively speaking, the bill’s challenge of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) purports only to give individuals or corporations the ability to assert their religion. Supporters of the bill claim that their religious freedom has been tampered with and they use that as a legal defense. In other words, the RFRA simply sets different standards to cases in which religious objections are to be judged. The new law seems almost completely innocuous on the surface, but it has aroused furious debate and protest ever since its passing: quite frankly, it can be misused so easily.

Many people (liberal and otherwise) are sympathetic to the LGBTQ community in Indiana and argue that the new law infringes on individual rights. Interpreting the act as a green light for businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, countless people have staged protests not only in Indiana, but also all around the United States. Connecticut’s very own Governor Dannel Malloy engaged in protest to the new law, approving an executive order to cut off all state-funded travel to Indiana. UConn men’s basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, joined Malloy in protest of this seemingly discriminatory act, boycotting the Final Four that was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Many more notable protesters have voiced their stance against the RFRA. Local business reviewer, Angie’s List, aborted its proposal to establish a new headquarters in Indiana; rock band, Wilco, cancelled its May 7th performance in Indianapolis; comedians Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, cancelled their May 16th show. Offerman proceeded to call Governor Pence out on Twitter, pledging to donate to the Human Rights Campaign to further protest the new laws.

On the other side of the spectrum, some see nothing wrong with the act and fervently
defend it. They see the act as being beneficial to society. Richard Garnett, a Notre Dame professor who supports the RFRA, declares that the act was only put in place to defend the rights of people of less popular religions. Some see a bright side to this Act, as it makes lets people act freely based on their religion without being discriminated against.

In the midst of all this protest and disapproval of the law, Mike Pence has been forced to clarify the Act. Firmly stating at a press conference that he “[doesn’t] support discrimination against gays,” he affirmed that the law was passed so that people have the power to go to court when they feel their right to religious freedom has been infringed upon, not so that people could discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Pence is calling for “legislation that is added to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”

The debate over the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act rages on, both sides pronouncing the other side’s views as inaccurate, as misinterpretations of the law. However, further clarification may lead to revision later this spring that will prove the law more inclusive in practice.