Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights in Indiana

Indiana Governor Mike Pence

There has been a lot of conversation in the last few days about Indiana’s new religious liberty bill. Liberals think it is anti-gay and thus discriminatory.  Conservatives, and especially Christian conservatives who oppose gay marriage, think it is a victory for religious freedom.  Now other states and cities are boycotting Indiana.

Was such a law needed?  I’m not sure that it was.  Will the boycott of Indiana by other politicians hurt ordinary people in Indiana, including LGBT business owners?  Probably. As a friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook, “the dopes who passed the legislation will feel no pain, nor will the government officials in those other states and cities.”

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and a self-professed supporter of gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws against LGBT citizens, has offered an interesting middle ground on this whole debate.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at USA Today:

For as long as I can remember, the culture wars have been poisoning our politics, turning Democrats and Republicans into mortal enemies and transforming arenas that used to be blithely bipartisan into battlegrounds between good and evil. Now our battles over “family values” are threatening to kill religious liberty. And liberals do not much seem to care.
In a recent speech at Boston University, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock observed that America’s sexual revolution seems to be going the way of theFrench Revolution, in which religion and liberty cannot coexist. Today pro-choice and gay rights groups increasingly view conservative Christians as bigots hell bent on imposing their primitive beliefs on others.
Rather than viewing today’s culture wars as battles between light and darkness,Laycock sees them as principled disagreements. What one side views as “grave evils,” the other side views as “fundamental human rights.” What is needed if we want to preserve liberty in both religion and sexuality is a grand bargain in which the left would agree not to impose its secular morality on religious individuals while the right would agree not to impose its religious rules on society at large.
Any takers? Is it really necessary to pin a scarlet letter on those who believe the Bible prohibits gay marriage? Or might we learn to be satisfied with preserving liberty for ourselves without imposing our ideals (on sex or religion) on others?
Admittedly, there are problems with Indiana’s RFRA. For example, it extends religious liberty protections to corporations. But few liberals are up in arms about that. The left sees this law as a blank check to discriminate. But RFRAs are not blank checks. They simply offer religious minorities a day in court, and only rarely do these cases concern gay rights. Recently the Supreme Court employed the RFRA test to allow a Muslim prisoner to wear a beard and in Pennsylvania that same test was used to allow churches to feed the homeless in city parks.
Almost all of my liberal friends disagree with me on this. That is their right. But in my view the Old Order Amish have an equally fundamental right to drive their horse-drawn buggies on Indiana roads. So do Muslim students in Indianapolis public schools who want to be released from class in order to celebrate their Eid al-Adha festival.
Let’s not let culture warriors, on either side, sacrifice our freedoms on the altar of the culture wars.

4 thoughts on “Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights in Indiana

  1. So what are the “serious problems”? Also what is wrong with the context? 5 years ago no one would have thought about causing bakers and florists to lose their businesses because they refused to promote causes that violated their religious convictions.


  2. Was such a law needed? I'm not sure that it was

    Pardon my Wiki

    As Justice Scalia has observed, the fight over “rights” is murky but the 1st Amendment explicitly identified “free expression” of religion as well as a prohibition of is establishment

    “the dopes who passed the legislation will feel no pain, nor will the government officials in those other states and cities.”

    Who are the dopes, exactly? Those who stand or those who cave?

    Dopes? As if those on one side are smart and those who aren't are stupid?

    Did you quote this person approvingly?


  3. Fair enough, Robert. I appreciate the sensitivity to context. I guess I liked Prothero's piece because it at least took religious liberty seriously. But I agree, this law has some serious problems.


  4. John, I should note that one of the key opponents of the Indiana RFRA is my denomination, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and has decided to move our 2017 General Assembly. The problem with the Indiana law, which Prothero seems to miss, is the context. It was developed as a way to counteract the effects of the legalizing of gay marriage. The proponents of the law were concerned about this, not whether a Muslim could have a beard. The idea that this is the same thing as the federal law, and most other RFRA's is that they didn't emerge in this context and they didn't extend religious liberty to corporations.


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