Hey Indiana GOP: You Can't "Fix" the RFRA

Indiana Republicans, hoping to shutdown the national firestorm of controversy over their state’s newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act, are moving to amend the law. But here’s the problem: their proposed “fix” plays right into the arguments of the law’s opponents. While some Indiana Republicans haven’t articulated a strong defense of the RFRA, the professionally outraged opponents of the law haven’t exactly leveled substantive criticisms.

If Hoosier lawmakers were criticized for pushing the RFRA through too quickly, the same could be said of the supposed “fix” they are trying to hastily attach to the law. The RFRA was introduced on January 6 and signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence (R) on March 26. The “fix” was publicly released Thursday morning, and legislative leaders are trying to hurry the process to a conclusion within a matter of days.

Critics of the RFRA say the law legalizes discrimination and have clamored for a change that would list protected classes that cannot be discriminated against. But here’s the rub: The RFRA is about preventing government from forcing men and women of a wide variety of faith practices to violate their faith.

The GOP-backed “fix” to the RFRA essentially limits the religious freedom protections to non-profit religious entities. The rest of the proposed solution poses as an anti-discrimination statute even though nothing in the original law legalized or otherwise encouraged or condoned discrimination.

Liberals sought to turn the debate over the RFRA into a discussion of discrimination between private citizens. In reality, the RFRA in Indiana – and similar statutes elsewhere – protect citizens from government action. They do not address person-to-person interactions of the sort liberals insist are at stake. Pushing for a fix that turns the RFRA into a sort of equal opportunity catch-all bypasses the original intent of the legislation and accepts the premise of the straw man arguments liberals have been making.

As well, in a sort of ironic concession to the superheated hyperbole of RFRA opponents, the proposed “fix” only mentions Jewish and Christian faith practices by name. An exemption from the anti-discrimination portion of the “fix” is given to:

“A rabbi, priest, preacher, minister, pastor or designee of a church or other nonprofit religious organization or society when the individual is engaged in a religious or an affiliated educational function of the church or other nonprofit religious organization or society.”

A “designee” could be from any faith practice, but by trying to spell out an exemption, drafters of the plan focused on the Judeo-Christian faith tradition when in reality the RFRA is about any religious faith anywhere. The First Amendment doesn’t just apply to Jews and Christians, and Indiana’s RFRA was about all faiths, although liberals found Christians to be the easiest to demonize in the public square. It is politically incorrect to chastise other faith practices, but the RFRA protected them just as much as it protected anyone who claims to be a Christian.

Before Indiana lawmakers nervously react to the climate around them, they would do well to consider the consequences of their “fix” and the fact that on two fronts it accepts false premises advanced by opponents of the original RFRA.