Republican 2016ers Continue to Support Indiana’s License to Discriminate
Yesterday, a bill passed through the Arkansas legislature that is almost identical to the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that has been the focus of national backlash this week. This afternoon, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) acknowledged the part of the law that would give corporations a license to discriminate, and then said he won’t sign his state’s bill until changes are made to remove that aspect. That is certainly progress from what Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana said yesterday, but the fact that Gov. Hutchinson let a bill banning LGBT protections become law last month shows that these actions are motivated by outside pressure, not a true desire to achieve equality.
The backlash against these bills has continued from almost all sides: all four NCAA Final Four coaches just released a joint statement condemning the Indiana law. Now the Arkansas governor is backpedaling. But, tellingly, most major Republican potential 2016 candidates have defended Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s law and helped to spread misinformation about the implications of this harmful legislation. Below we compare their rhetoric in support of the legislation to the reality of the laws’ implications:
Rhetoric: “If they actually got briefed on the law that they wouldn’t be blasting this law. I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level.”
Reality: There are several substantial differences between the Indiana and federal RFRAs, but the main distinction is that all existing RFRA laws apply only in disputes between a person or entity and a government, but Indiana’s law applies in disputes between private citizens.
Rhetoric: “Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State.”
Reality: Equality for the LGBT community is not an attack on the First Amendment. In 1993, President Clinton signed a federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act that protects an individual’s religious liberty without giving corporations and individuals a license to discriminate.
Rhetoric: “So no one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation.”
Reality: That is, in fact, exactly what Indiana’s law says. By applying the law in disputes between individuals and for-profit businesses, Gov. Pence is making it legal for an individual or a business to deny someone service on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Rhetoric: “Then state-Sen. Barack Obama voted for (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) when he was in the state senate of Illinois. The very same language.”
Reality: Pence and the many others who have argued that Indiana’s RFRA is just like the 19 other state laws are overlooking key distinctions in how the law can be applied. Under Indiana’s law, any number of private actors like employers, landlords, small businesses and large corporations could use religious justification for any number of discriminatory actions.
Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have all supported the law as well, using the same, incorrect arguments that religious liberties are under attack and that there is no difference between this law and existing RFRAs.
BOTTOM LINE: Religious liberty is protected in the United States. The purpose of Indiana’s law, specifically, is to go beyond that and grant a license to discriminate. But not one potential Republican 2016 candidate is among the countless companies, organizations, cities, states and individuals that have come out in opposition of this harmful legislation.