The headline of this piece will immediately strike anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Gail Collins’ “work” at the New York Times as needless repetition of the obvious. Nevertheless, her latest column is so mind-numbingly bad that it is deserving of special attention, not least because it is wholly representative of pretty much all liberal commentary on the the Indiana RFRA to date.
When last we saw Gail Collins, her bosses were issuing an embarrassing correction to an attack piece that she wrote about Scott Walker in which she blamed Walker’s tenure as Wisconsin Governor for events that happened before Walker even took office. Having learned apparently nothing from that regrettable escapade, Collins is now inventing facts out of whole cloth about RFRA, Mike Pence, and pretty much everyone in the State of Indiana.
Let’s begin this examination of Gail Collins’ column with an exercise that Mrs. Collins clearly never undertook – with a reading of what the Indiana RFRA says, the substantive portion of which reads as follows:
Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
That’s it. You’ll note that there is nothing here about discriminating against gay people, wedding cakes, or anything else even remotely related to discrimination of any kind. The bill acts solely as a check on the Pence administration (and municipal and county ordinances) from passing regulations which substantially burden the exercise of religion. Of course, the Pence administration and local government entities can still do so if they can prove that the regulation in question is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is also the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The law does not create a substantive right for churches or for private businesses and it does not hinder the Indiana legislature from passing any law they so desire that infringes on the exercise of religion (so long as the law in question passes First Amendment muster).
What it does do is protect Indiana businesses from actions like the Obama administration took when it declared – unilaterally, without Congressional approval, and contrary to the text of the law – that all insurance plans henceforth would be required to provide contraceptive coverage free of charge to their employees. Similarly, if the Pence administration unilaterally declared via regulation that henceforth all churches in Indiana would be required to perform same sex marriages, this law would allow churches to attempt to prove that same-sex marriage was not a compelling governmental interest and/or that the regulation in question was not narrowly tailored.
And yet, despite the fact that the law has no obvious application to discrimination against gays or anyone else, liberals have been content to act as though Indiana passed a law that made it legal to shoot gay people in the face or send them off to prison camps. Not wishing to be left out of the all-you-can eat buffet of manufactured outrage, Gail Collins decided to wade into the fray with her trademark incisive wit and piercing commentary:
Last year Indiana chose “Honest to Goodness Indiana” as its new tourism slogan. Not everyone was charmed. Some critics said they’d have preferred something more cosmopolitan. Although it doesn’t seem likely they’d be happier with the runners-up, one of which was “Seasoned Just Right.”
Now, however, the slogan makes a kind of sense, especially if you throw in a little punctuation:
Honest to goodness, Indiana! Really, what were you thinking?
Look, I get that stale and predictable liberalism is probably what you want if you’re actually reading the op-ed pages of the New York Times. What baffles me about the continued existence of Gail Collins’ career is: who actually finds this writing good? Who reads these execrable “jokes” and actually chuckles to themselves at the clever turn of phrase that surely taught those bumpkins in Indiana a lesson about what happens when you mess with the sensibilities of intellectually elite New Yorkers?
I don’t want to live in New York or write for the New York Times but I’m genuinely professionally offended that anyone is paid to produce this drivel, even given the fact that there’s a market for people who actually want Paul Krugman’s commentary on economics.
Moving on from her sick burn on the Indiana legislature, Collins attempts to tackle the actual merits of the law in a rambling, nonsensical diatribe that (FOR SOME WEIRD REASON) avoids any discussion of what the law says and instead focuses on what other liberal idiots are saying about what the law does, treating these pronouncements as factual rather than delusional:
Last week, you may remember, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed a “religious freedom” law that was widely decried around the country as an attack on gay civil rights. One state business pulled the plug on a planned expansion in protest. Conferences were canceled, events called off. The N.C.A.A., which is based in Indianapolis, was looking extremely uneasy. Other states and cities began imposing Indiana travel bans.
This is the exact same thing that happened in Arizona a year before, except that the governor there responded to the outcry by vetoing the law. Nevertheless, the Republicans who run Indiana claimed they were shocked, shocked by these totally unexpected developments.
I suppose that it was a little naive of the good-natured people of the state of Indiana to believe that liberals could or would actually read a bill (that’s less than a page long) instead of leaping immediately into ignorant histrionics. I trust that this is a lesson they will not soon forget. Except, there’s only one way a rational person can deal with being attacked for something he hasn’t even done, but rather something a crazy person has accused him of doing: ignore the crazy person and hope the men with the white suits intervene soon.
Moving on further into the recesses of Gail Collins’ addled mind:
Pence and the Legislature’s majority party thought they were on safe ground because their law really did look like a federal freedom of religion act passed during the Clinton administration. Except for the part about giving businesses the right to refuse service on religious grounds. Like a bakery declining to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple. Which was absolutely not in any way the example the State Legislature had in mind. No, sirree.
Pause. This is a flat-out, unadulterated lie. There is no such “part.” The bill is exceptionally short; read it for yourself. The section Collins refers to simply does not exist. Clearly, Collins is simply taking the word of all the hyperventilating liberals who have gone before her that it does exist, or she read the bill for herself and is too stupid to realize that it doesn’t exist, or she realizes that it doesn’t exist and is just lying. Whatever. I don’t care. The point is, the surprise on the behalf of the Indiana legislature is genuine because the bill simply doesn’t say what everyone is inventing right now.
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act is known as RFRA despite the unfortunate resemblance to the sound of a hoarse Labrador retriever. It was passed in 1993 in response to the problems of Native Americans in Oregon, who smoked peyote in a religious ceremony and were then fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits.
All those who believe the Indiana Legislature was acting out of concern over the right of Native Americans to use peyote raise their hands.
Stop right there.
Who gives a s***?
I mean, really, is Gail Collins trying to say that the smoking of peyote is the only legitimate reason that anyone might pass a religious freedom law? Or is she trying to say that all bills that aren’t motivated for concern of Native Americans facially invalid? I’m just confused, is it peyote that makes the federal law valid in the mind of Gail Collins, or is it Native Americans, or some magical combination of the two? If the Indiana legislature was concerned about white people being allowed to smoke peyote, would that be cool? What if the Indiana legislature was concerned about Native Americans being forced to perform abortions against their religious beliefs? What if it turns out that we could find an Indiana legislator who was concerned about the right of overweight trans Muslim women to toss dwarves? Would that pass Gail Collins muster or not and how can anyone possibly know where the madness starts or stops?
I am sorry, I have digressed. This is what I get for trying to follow the train of thought of a person who sat at the feet of the great philsopher Jeff Lebowski.
If you are still with me, I defy you to read this next bit and tell me Gail Collins was not dropped on her head as a child:
Pence did have another explanation for why Indiana needed a religious freedom law right now. He said he wanted to expand the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which held that corporations have the right to refuse to cover the cost of contraception under the Affordable Care Act. “With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states,” the governor wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
Think about that for a minute. Indiana passes a law that is widely regarded as a sop to the state’s social conservatives for their inability to ban same-sex marriage. The Republican establishment expresses dismay at this interpretation, and insists that its only intention was to deprive female residents of the right to get birth control.
We seem to have a pattern here. Last year in Arizona when the governor vetoed the anti-gay bill, the Legislature vented its frustration by passing a new anti-abortion law. The gay rights movement is winning, big time. But governments are still insisting on their authority to mess with the sex lives of heterosexual women.
Think about this for a minute instead: Gail Collins invents an interpretation of the Indiana law out of what other people say about the law as opposed to what it actually says (“widely regarded” as an anti-gay bill) and, not being content with that, invents a fake defense for the Indiana legislature (“its only intention was to deprive female residents of the right to get birth control”) and – after all that – still can’t knock down her own straw man (which she erected to fight a completely different straw man) with anything more substantive than “Yippee.”
In order to drive home the fact that she is a really, really terrible columnist, Gail Collins doesn’t even have the decency to close this meandering, error-riddled mess with anything approaching a point, or even a poignant phrase:
Right now, Indiana is in a mess, and residents are worried about the loss of jobs and investment because of a meaningless and spiteful piece of legislation. They should feel free to blame their governor. Mike Pence was supposed to be one of those evenheaded fiscal conservatives that moderate Republicans point to as a potential presidential candidate. But he didn’t have the foresight to see how badly this would turn out, or the spine to push back. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is watching him flounder and making a last-minute attempt to beat back a similar bill there.
Pence and the Legislature want to appease the business community by amending the law. They’re currently trying to find a way to accomplish that mission while not upsetting the social conservatives they made so happy just last month.
Good luck with that one, guys.
Wow, Gail, you really got them there. “Good luck with that one, guys.” One wonders how the Indiana GOP will ever recover from yet another sick burn dished out by the Human Torch of Op-Eds, Gail Collins. If I might, Gail? Allow me to offer you some career advice courtesy of Neal Page: