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 Religious Freedom: The Irony of Liberty

Religious Freedom: The Irony of Liberty

When the obvious stays silent, we fall into the oblivion of ignorance. And what some may find to be obvious may be as elusive as Mona Lisa’s smile to others. To me, the fact that human rights—regardless of age, gender, and race—should be equal on all terms is very obvious. No one should be discriminated against due to social norms or because of someone’s cultural or religious beliefs.

The Indiana State Senate recently passed Bill 568, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Indiana Governor Mike Pence officially signed the bill, thereby granting passage. The act essentially prohibits the government from burdening an individual’s exercise of religion unless it has a compelling interest to do so. Since then, there have been numerous accusations made by the American public, often claiming that the law allows businesses in Indiana to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Perhaps there is, to some degree, overreaction from the general public. The overwhelming disapproval of the religious freedom bill may be due to the media fanning the flames of controversy and the people’s lack of knowledge about the language of and intention behind the bill. 

According to the New York Times’ coverage of Governor Mike Pence’s (R - IN) press conference regarding the signing of the bill, the law was originally meant to “protect Native Americans in danger of losing their jobs because of religious ceremonies that involved an illegal drug, peyote.”

The governor also stated in the press conference: “I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the general assembly to create a license to discriminate.”

Regardless of whether the governor believes that the bill did not have a discriminatory intention or not, it is necessary to recognize that the bill would inevitably enforce discrimination against the LGBT community because words create subjectivity. And what are bills made of but words?

It should be noted as soon as one reads the bill that by using religion as the basis for civil conduct, it is apparent that those in the LGBT community will be treated differently than heterosexuals. It is not just based on a “perception problem” that a few changes to the bill can fix. The world of discrimination is more than words. And whether or not the bill originally meant to protect Native Americans, all American citizens should be given the opportunity to use the bill’s words to benefit themselves.

Ultimately, my question is, why does one need a bill that reinforces what is already a guaranteed constitutional right: freedom of religion? The only reason that the bill was introduced and enacted in Indiana (and possibly more states to come) is because the conservatives of Indiana felt threatened by the LGBTQA community who supposedly do not follow the teachings of religious (read, Christian) texts.

The irony is that by signing the religious freedom bill and granting people the freedom to protect themselves using religion as a backdrop, there will be even more repression of groups that do not. There will be no liberty within freedom if this bill begins to be enacted in other states. The people who have discriminated against the LGBTQA community now have a legal document that will protect them from their discriminatory actions.

Words are used to interpret and understand. But Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act exploits people’s faiths in order to impose discrimination upon others who do not comply with what is stated in religious texts and teachings.

- Yeho Hwang

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