I am sure if you are like me, you’ve been asked why we need to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), also known as the Indiana Hobby Lobby bill, when we have a United States Constitution and State Constitution written to protect our Religious Freedom.
Isn’t the Constitution enough?
The answer SHOULD be a resounding yes. However unfortunately, the courts have muddied the waters as they have determined individuals’ rights with unclear and sometimes inconsistent case-law. Now is the time for the people and their elected representatives to affirm the importance of religious tolerance.
Now is the time to pass a state RFRA.
In 1993, the Federal RFRA was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97-3 in the Senate by both Republicans and Democrats in an act of clear bipartisan support. When it was passed, the ACLU supported it; moreover, last summer the Supreme Court of the United states applied it and ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. This was a win for religious freedom. The SCOTUS cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their decision to restrain the federal government from forcing Hobby Lobby to pay for abortion causing drugs in their employee’s health plans. The Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act bolstered the first amendment.
Great news for Hobby Lobby! Great news for individual of faith!
However, bringing it closer to home in the Hoosier state, the reality is, the Hobby Lobby case only involved the federal government, and not individual states. After Congress passed RFRA, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Act could not be applied to the states. In the City of Boerne v. Flores, a majority led by Justice Anthony Kennedy held that Congress had exceeded its constitutional powers by enacting RFRA, because Congress couldn’t be determined the way in which states could enforce RFRA’s restrictions.
This is why we must do more to protect Hoosiers. Currently Hoosiers are left to the whim of activist judges who may arbitrarily limit your religious practice, and force you to compromise your beliefs.
It is not uncommon for important rights to be protected both by the Constitution and by statute. An example of this: Racial discrimination is prohibited by the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many have used the analogy of “Belt and Suspenders.” With something so important as our religious freedom, it is good to lean on the side of caution.
By passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it will require judges to identify the interests of the religious practitioner as well as the interests of the state. It will keep the judges reasoning transparent, vs. “under the table.” It will give the General Assembly a voice (our voice) of its support of religious liberty to the judicial branch.
There have been literally hundreds of cases where individual liberty was crushed under the whim of a judicial activist. Many of these cases are documented in the book entitled Undeniable, written by the Liberty Institute.
This bill does not determine the outcome of each case, however it does provide a guideline and a roadmap to balance individual liberties and religious freedom with the states interest. From Christian colleges who have been denied the right to say no to government mandates requiring them to provide abortion inducing drugs, to the court decision that came out just this week involving Sweet Cakes bakery. The court ruled against Aaron and Melissa Klein, owner of Sweet Cakes bakery, and they are now facing the potential of a $200,000 fine for having a biblical stand on marriage. Colorado does not have a RFRA to protect its citizens.
Without a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Hoosiers must rely only on unelected judges. Religious liberty is too important to leave it up to only the courts. The General Assembly should be heard on this issue.
Religious freedom should be properly balanced against legitimate state interests, and RFRA accomplishes that goal.