Personal freedoms have been debated since the United States came into existence as an independent country. As a society, there have been battles for independence from the rule of another country, there was a war over the ability to govern each state based on the beliefs, and long held traditions of the area and there have been fights over civil liberties. Freedom is a founding principle of the nation and the country has also made it clear that it is a melting pot. The U.S. has established itself as a place where everyone is welcome, no matter what race, creed, religion or sex. Yet the freedoms that the country holds so dear, are being tested by the ability to openly discriminate based on the idea of religious freedom.
There has been a furor in recent days as Indiana signed into law what is known as the Religious Freedom Act. A law that would basically allow a business to turn away customers based upon their beliefs. Many have accused this law of being anti-LGBT people and yet it is so much worse than that. This is a law that allows for open discrimination.
There are currently 31 states that have extended protections for religious beliefs. Of those 31 states, 18 had laws based upon the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was never in regards to same sex marriage or even gay rights. The original bill was based on the idea that there are customs associated with religion that should not be regulated by the government.
Now it appears that the original premise of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has been perverted into the ability to discriminate people based on the idea that one does not approve of someone else’s lifestyle. Although proponents of the bill might argue otherwise, the proof has already been shown, as is the case in Georgia.
In Georgia, the same bill was passed through the Senate and made it as far as the House, when one lawmaker, Mike Jacobs, an LGBT friendly Republican, decided to put the bill to a test. Jacobs proposed an amendment to the bill, that would prevent religious liberty claims to be used in order to go around local and state nondiscrimination protections. Supporters of the bill did not agree with the amendment, and said that it would actually ruin the bill itself. The amendment passed with a vote of 9-8, with three Republicans actually siding with the Democrats on the issue.
Prior to the vote to add the nondiscrimination amendment to the bill, one Republican stood up to say that the amendment itself would actually serve to undercut the purpose of the bill. Following this statement, a Democrat said that this meant that the bill was then designed to discriminate against others, if a nondiscrimination amendment would be able to undercut its purpose.
Georgia was able to prove that the purpose of the Religious Freedom Bill was about discrimination just by adding an amendment that would prevent using the bill for that reason. While the government of Indiana might believe that their intentions are noble, and that this bill is not proposing people discriminate against each other, their are no guarantees. There are no guaranteed protections for those individuals who have been discriminated against because they are gay, lesbian, black, Hispanic, female or for whatever other reason they are refused service. Instead, there is a law in place that allows for the ability to discriminate all in the name of religion.
Opinion by Kimberley Spinney
Photo by Eric Allix Rogers – Flickr License