In the face of all this quackery regarding Indiana’s new and controversial RFRA – the one which takes further steps to protect religious freedoms – it is important to stay sane amongst all the leftist hysteria, to ignore the largely ignorant but nevertheless incessant whining emerging from hacks all over the web. In order to do so, however, one needs to understand the actual implications of the law, as divorced from what one might assume the law to entail.
First off, Indiana’s RFRA has been written, as I understand it, in the tradition of the federal RFRA that was signed into law by President Clinton, of all people. A slew of states already have similar laws with comparable aims – and have not received nearly as much backlash as has Indiana, because … well, you know … it wasn’t fashionable at the time to do so – showing in a definitive sense the extent to which the United States relies upon federalism. Many states may not feel that the federal provision goes far enough, or perhaps they think they need more idiosyncratic renderings of the principle in order to more fully protect their religious citizens; but whatever their reasons, the point is that as constitutionally guaranteed institutions of government, they have every right to take initiative in this area.
A second element to consider, of course, is the actual content of the law, which seems to me to have been simply enough explained by experts in the field so as to leave little room for confusion. In short, Indiana’s RFRA – according specifically to an article written for The Federalist by Gabriel Malor, an attorney in the DC area – was designed to provide courts with a framework through which they may better consider cases involving religious freedom. In the main, those who sue entities that make some claim of religious liberty for undertaking – or refusing to undertake – a particular action will have to convince judges and juries that the government has compelling reason to prevent the religious from citing their beliefs as safeguards. So, should a religious person claim that consuming a substance banned by Indiana state law is something necessarily commanded by his or her religion (to take an example from Malor’s piece), this law would force plaintiffs to provide a compelling reason to force that religious person from consuming the substance. If such an activity isn’t really affecting anyone else, then it is likely the courts will use the RFRA to protect the person’s religious liberty – not to ensure their performance of any discrimination prevented by the Civil Rights Act.
Of course, were the religious owners of a restaurant to try and refuse service to homosexuals (which they aren’t at all, in the first place), it would be very difficult for courts to use the RFRA to justify their claims – for not only are innocent third parties perniciously affected by an activity of that sort, but such would also set a dangerous precedent for the future of anti-discrimination law in the United States. But is that how the Left around the nation has consistently been interpreting the situation?
To be blunt and precise, no. Liberals have been acting as if the RFRA was drafted secretly in a church by fundamentalist law-makers who want to undermine civil-rights precedent. They know that it is not true, but it doesn’t really matter since the whole purpose of progressivism in the first place is to blankly oppose tradition in any area of life, no matter how respectable or frivolous. And so it is important to remember that which is becoming increasingly accurate when describing the Left: The true liberals in Indiana are not the ones who scream against First-Amendment protections, or who act as if any attempt to preserve America’s classically liberal traditions are necessarily discriminatory; the true liberals are those who understand the importance of allowing those with whom you disagree to carry on with their personal activity. For who wants to live in a country in which the feelings of some outweigh the Lockean natural rights of others?