Intolerance And Indiana

By Gregory J. Welborn

Reports from the Mideast about “a deal” with Iran are grabbing all the headlines, capsule but arguably an equally important battle is being waged here on the domestic front. This is a battle between those who claim to be tolerant and those who are portrayed as monolithically and backwardly intolerant. I reference the war of words being waged over the Indiana religious freedom act. Those on the left would have us all believe that this law has been designed and passed with the specific intent of allowing people to discriminate against gays. The truth is quite the opposite, but more importantly, the principal enshrined in this law is of the utmost importance to Americans of all political, religious, and sexual orientations.

The Indiana law is simply a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The purpose of this law was to both protect the rights of gays and the rights of those whose religious faith forbids gay marriage. The act – both at the federal level and now at the state level in Indiana – requires courts to administer a balancing test between the rights of gays and the rights of the faithful.

As we read the headlines and hear the vituperative accusations of discrimination in Indiana, we need to bear in mind that federal RFRA law was signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. That law simply stated that for individuals or businesses to refuse to supply goods or services to a gay they needed to show that their religious liberty would be “substantially burdened”, and in turn the government needed to show that before they could compel someone –say a devout Christian baker – to support a gay marriage the government’s requirement was the least restrictive means to achieving a “compelling” government interest.

President Clinton signing RFRA into law

President Clinton signing RFRA into law

Stripping away the legal mumbo-jumbo, here’s what the federal law stated. If gays want to do their thing, then the rest of us don’t have any right to interfere with it. But at the same time, if someone feels their religion prevents them from participating in, or supporting, a gay event, then that individual has the right to not participate. I can’t imagine a fairer and more balanced law. Let the free market determine how products and services are delivered.

If a gay couple wants to have a cake, they have the freedom to find a baker who wants the business. At the same time, if a baker doesn’t want the business, he or she is free to pass on the opportunity. The federal RFPA was the ultimate live-and-let-live law. It was the epitome of all that is great with this country’s commitment to individual freedom.

The only reason Indiana, or 19 other states for that matter, felt the need to pass their own versions of RFPA is because the Supreme Court in 1997 limited RFPA to federal actions only. In other words, the original federal RFPA was deemed to apply only at the federal level. In response, 19 other states – including such liberal bastions as Illinois and Connecticut – enacted their own versions of RFPA in order to assure that both gays and the religiously devout would receive equal protection of their beliefs.

As a conservative and a Christian, I write from the perspective of simultaneously believing that gay marriage is wrong and that gays should be allowed to live out in the privacy of their homes their sexuality and moral values as they perceive them. I do not believe I have the right to prohibit gays from being gay, but I also do not believe that gays have the right to compel me to support their decisions and lifestyle. Again, this is the epitome of live-and-let-live principal.

Our founders created a system based on allowing the maximum level of freedom consistent with a properly functioning national government. My freedoms are enshrined up to the point where they impinge on someone else’s. As one of our former Supreme Court Justices once wrote, the freedom to swing my arm stops at your face.

The uproar over Indiana’s law is clearly politically motivated. But it is equally clear that there is no miscarriage of justice or morality at play. This should have been a slam dunk with no press coverage – equivalent to a city council deciding to repair a pot hole on Elm Street. But it was built into a national media story by those forces which are intent on eliminating our country’s commitment to religious freedom. This is no trivial matter. Keep in mind that after our constitution was ratified, the very first amendment was to articulate and establish the freedom of speech and religion. And how appropriate that was.

If we, as individuals, do not possess the freedom to speak our minds, or the freedom to practice our faith, then there are few real freedoms we would possess. If you can prohibit a person’s opinions from being articulated or prohibit their faith in God from being exercised, that individual has no real freedom remaining.

So, for those who are committed to destroying the Judeo-Christian ethic and/or preventing it from any expression in the public square, attacking the right to object to and abstain from participating in a gay marriage has become the rallying point. But the rest of us should think long and hard before accepting the premise that the federal or state government has the right to restrict our freedoms of speech and religion. Would we want churches to be prohibited from feeding the homeless because they don’t meet regulations written for restaurants? We would want the local Baptist church to be forced to hire an atheist? Would we want a Muslim baker to be forced to bake a cake for a Jewish wedding?

There are a thousand legitimate questions like this which must be considered before we blithely suspend the first amendment, and in so doing, a common sense understanding of where one person’s freedoms intersect with another’s.

Honest liberals used to understand that there was a legitimate balancing test. The intolerant left, claims the mantel of tolerance, but in reality seeks to impose their belief system with no concern for the rights of all citizens or for any tolerance of those who disagree with their vision.

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Gregory J. Welborn is a freelance writer and has spoken to several civic and religious organizations on cultural and moral issues. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 3 children and is active in the community. He can be reached [email protected]/5l.com

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