Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Indiana Stirs up Controversy with New Act

    By now, the news of Indiana’s new religious freedom law has made its way to every corner of the United States, and the public response has been divided between clear outrage and hearty agreement. But in a strange turn of events, the law may now wind up doing exactly the opposite of what it was originally intended to.

    The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” in its original form, gives businesses legal protection if they refuse to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender customers on the basis of a religious opposition to homosexuality. From one perspective, the law protects businesses and promotes free exercise of religion. But on the other side of the argument, which appears to have convinced the majority of the American public, the law acts as a “license to discriminate.”

    “I definitely find it really ridiculous,” said freshman Jillian Foote. “I always have a hard time grasping the other side of the argument when it comes to gay rights, so I just can’t believe that such a law was able to be passed.”

    Backlash against the law was immediate. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned city and state-funded travel to Indiana, as did politicians in other states. The law also upset several businesses and sports associations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is based in Indianapolis.

    “Now you’ve got individuals and government institutions saying that where they put their money is a moral matter,” said Campus Minister for Social Justice Jimmy McCarty. “If the values of the Seattle city government are that who you buy from and sell to can’t be discriminatory in any way, then it makes sense that we can’t spend our money that way.”

    With the state suddenly under enormous economic pressure and harsh criticisms from around the country, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence became open to adjusting the law in an effort to end the controversy. On the morning of Thursday, April 2, Indiana Republican lawmakers revealed a series of changes to the law, which Pence signed that same day. Rather surprisingly, the changes essentially reverse the original goal of the law, making it illegal for public businesses to refuse to serve members of the general public on any basis.

    Law professor Julie Shapiro, who teaches a course on Law and Sexuality, said she was stunned by this outcome.

    “I would have said at the beginning that the best one could hope for – from my point of view—would be a draw,” she said. “It never occurred to me that this would be a moment to advance gay rights.”

    This is a huge step for Indiana, a state which previously had no legal protection for the LGBT community. Even before the religious freedom law was introduced, there were no laws, making it illegal for businesses, landlords and employers from discriminating against people based on their sexuality. And to this day Indiana is one of 29 states in which it is legal to fire a person for being gay.

    “Maybe what comes from this is renewed attention to issues around discrimination, and maybe some effort to enact statutes that protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination,” Shapiro said.

    Other states have recently faced issues relevant to what Indiana’s new law is addressing. Last year in New Mexico, a gay couple sued a photographer for refusing to take photos at a same-sex wedding ceremony. And this year in Washington, a florist cited her “relationship with Jesus” as her reason for refusing to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding. Because both of these states have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, both of the business owners were penalized. Even so, there is still no federal law that protects the LGBT community this way.

    “Nobody says you have to be a florist. Nobody says you have to be a photographer,” Shapiro said. “You can’t pick and choose which members of the public you serve, at least not on that kind of basis.”

    Perhaps the most surprising thing about Indiana’s law, McCarty said, is the social and political backlash was so effective so fast.

    “I think we’re witnessing the evolution of both social protests and how people think about what morality looks like in practice, including religious morality,” he said. “In theory, I have no problem with right to religious freedom, but the problem is that rights conflict.”

    Since the announcement of the changes made to the religious freedom law last week, both Gov. Inslee and Mayor Murray have rescinded the bans on state and city-funded travel to Indiana.

    “I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana,” Gov. Pence said in a statement.

    Jenna may be reached at [email protected]

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