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The Religious Freedom Restoration Act RFRA. Legalized Discrimination or Protection of Religious Freedoms?

The Federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act- was originally introduced into the Senate by Ted Kennedy and sponsored in the House by Charles Schumer, then sighed into law under Bill Clinton in 1993. Barack Obama voted for a seemingly similar law as a state Senator in Illinois. A state version of the RFRA exists in about 20 states and most recently was signed into law at the Indiana state level, by Republican Governor Mike Pence. The Indiana law has obviously become an amazingly controversial issue invoking strong responses from both conservative and liberal groups as well as the business community including strong admonition from Apple and SalesForce.

However, the law seems to be somewhat misunderstood by many on both sides. It's stated purpose is to guarantee rights to religious organizations, individuals and businesses by imposing a burden on governments with respect to governments not creating a substantial burden on religious freedoms unless such burdens are to further a compelling government interest and only if such a burden is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The biggest concern is that members of the LGBT community will be discriminated against with impunity- a very real possibility even if its not the stated goal of the RFRA. One problem with the Indiana version is that unlike many of the other states that have passed RFRA's, Indiana has no statewide law to protect individuals from sexual orientation discrimination.

I'd like to put the RFRA on public trial specifically with the following questions

1) Should the RFRA be rescinded or repealed in its entirity?
2) Should the law remain but with a limiting factor to protect members of the LGBT or other groups from discrimination?
3) Do religious groups, especially religious minorities already have sufficient protections under existing Indiana or Federal law?
4) More generally, Should private enterprises have to right to refuse service to anyone for any reason or under any circumstance?
Governor Mike Pence.

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    • [-][+]My resolution
    • 71 Points
    • 9 years ago
    Hafsa D. (Neutral)
    1. It seems unlikely that this law will be repealed completely. Even when it was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 'Flores' [521 U.S. 507 (1997)] decision, the Act continued to stay in force at a federal level. Even though it is important to provide protection to religious freedom, but no one should be able to use that protection as a means to discriminate against any section of the society. That is why I think that the law should be repealed both on state and federal level.
    2. Perhaps other anti-discrimination laws should be introduced or strengthened in states such as Indiana which lack such legislation, rather than limiting this Act solely for the protection of the LGBT community.
    3. I think that religious groups are sufficiently protected under the US Constitution. Every one should be able to practice their religion without fear or coercion. While at the same the practitioner should also ensure that his/her freedom to exercise his/her religion is not encroaching any one else's freedoms.
    4.Although there are private enterprises that reserve the right to refuse their service to whoever they please, but I personally do not think that this should be the case. If a business/company has decided to set up and open its doors to the public then it should be available to ALL the public. Unless the race,gender,sexual preference etc. of the customer/client is directly harming the establishment in any way, then refusing service to that individual(s) would be justified. Other wise an outright banning of certain people from an enterprise is against human rights.
      • [-][+]My resolution
      • 12 Points
      • 10 years ago
      Shaneisha W. (Neutral)
      After doing a bit of research, it appears as though the RFRA is unnecessary, as the first amendment already covers protecting religious freedom and requiring the government to have a compelling governmental interest when placing any type of burden on citizens. So to answer your questions: (1) Yes, in my opinion, the RFRA should be rescinded. The first amendment already is in line to protect religious freedom; and while the protection against discrimination is not afforded to those within the LGBTQIA community, as far as the constitution applies (14th amendment), state laws may certainly create such. (2) There should not be a limiting factor solely for the protection of the LGBTQIA community, however, to place a protection that is much more broad in the sense, that the LGBTQIA community is included, would be ideal if this act passes. (3) Yes, religious groups already have sufficient protections under Federal law. Federal law is the bare minimum that states must follow, and the first amendment provides the necessary protection. (4) Private enterprises do have the right to refuse service to anyone for many reasons, not for any reason under any circumstance. While private enterprises many not refuse service for race, sex, gender, religion, nationality, immigrant status, that will not stop private enterprises from doing such. Therefore, the RFRA is unnecessary, and should be rescinded.
        • [-][+]My resolution
        • 111 Points
        • 10 years ago
        Brian W. (Neutral)
        I will begin by addressing your questions one at a time. I will then add some concluding remarks and a suggestion. 1) While I know many in the LGBT and business community (especially in Indianapolis) would like this, I do not think it is likely to occur. Moreover, protecting religious freedom is important. 2) Due to statements made by the Governor and the apparent disposition of the Indiana Legislature, I think it is likely the laws will stay in some form. There are two solutions that I think might work for most people. The Indiana law does not actually match other states’ and the federal government’s RFRAs. In other states with such laws (except Texas) the RFRAs deal with disputes between citizens and government agencies. However the Indiana law goes further by addressing disputes between individual citizens. One solution, then, would be to make the Indiana law match other RFRAs, where the government has to be a party to the dispute. The Texas law is similar to Indiana’s but has a “carve out” for local ordinances. So for example, the law would not apply to discrimination against LGBT persons in a municipality that provides such protections by ordinance. The Indiana law could also include this proviso. Lastly, it might also be helpful if Indiana passed civil rights protections for LGBT people (but I have a feeling that I not going to be widely accepted in their legislature). 3) Generally I am fairly hostile to laws such as the RFRA. They seem a little like Chicken Little worrying about the sky falling – or more directly, majority religions who are bemoaning the fact that they are losing power and having to share privilege, wanting to hold their beliefs without any of the costs of living in a pluralistic society. That said, we MUST safeguard the rights of people to believe and practice their religion without coercion. We must also safeguard the rights of similarly situated persons to be treated similarly in public accommodations. While I think existing laws already protect religious people more than sufficiently (including religious minorities), I also believe that belie may have a cost (such as not being able to run a “public accommodation” business if one cannot in good conscious serve the entire public) but also that laws that balance personal religious beliefs with basic civil rights for all are good things. 4) No, not with such absolutes. If a private enterprise is a public accommodation, then they should have to serve all the public. Private clubs, churches and the like should be free to choose their members and who they serve and do not service. Final thoughts: Besides the two suggestions made in my answer to Question 2, another one seems appropriate. Indiana could pass a law (or amend the RFRA) that would require businesses who plan to discriminate to publicly post which groups the will be discriminating against, and which groups they will serve, failing to do so would carry some fine or punishment, or the inability to avail themselves of the RFRA. For example, if a flower shop decided that because of their deeply-held religious beliefs they could not serve interracial couples, they should say so in all their ads and clearly at their store. Interracial couples will know not to patronize such establishments, as will others who disagree with such discrimination. Likewise, a bakery who will serve all Hoosiers can post a sign saying “all are welcome.” Let the free market decide who this will shake out – which businesses will survive and which will fail.
          • [-][+]My resolution – Plaintiff
          • 10 years ago
          Josh G. (Plaintiff-unverified)
          My proposal would be to create a limiting factor on the RFRA by passage of Indiana state laws that protect against unreasonable gender and sexual orientation discrimination by businesses. Not an easy thing to do, but Lets debate how such a law could work to protect freedom on both sides.
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