William Wagner
Why every state should follow Indiana's courageous lead
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By William Wagner
April 6, 2015

Mainstream media joined anti-religious LBTGQ activists this week in disparaging (and mischaracterizing) a modest effort by the State of Indiana to protect people of faith against unlawful abuses of government power.

Indiana and other state legislatures considering laws to protect religious liberty are not arbitrarily acting in a vacuum. Responding to judicial opinions diluting First Amendment protections for victims of government-sponsored religious persecution, the Federal government and nineteen other states enacted what is now popularly known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). For approximately two hundred years, the First Amendment protected all citizens from undue government interference with their religious freedom. When a Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Scalia curtailed this protection, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives unanimously passed the RFRA to restore that protection. The Democrat-controlled Senate agreed, 97-3, and Democrat President Bill Clinton enthusiastically signed it into law. A majority of states have since either adopted essentially the same law or held their constitutions already provide this protection. (Actually, Connecticut enacted its RFRA before Congress did.) These laws require government authorities to show a compelling reason when government substantially interferes with a citizen's sincerely held religious conscience. Nonetheless, the activists contend, and most of the media misleadingly "reports," that the law legally authorizes some undefined "discrimination" based on sexual orientation.

Ironically trying to justify their hostile attacks in the name of civil rights, the activists focus their ire on a mostly Christian minority. Merely defending viewpoints grounded in religious conscience is apparently enough to validate their outrage – especially when those viewpoints threaten their "personal autonomy" mantras or remonstrate against forced civil acceptance of all of sexual behavior.

The fierceness of the opposition to Indiana's religious liberty law makes clear that the instant attack is not about civil rights as the activists falsely suggest. It is, rather, about their desire for political power to censure, by force of law and punishment, any idea informed by sacred tenets that might interfere with their self-indulgence.

With a disturbing amount of popular support, governments increasingly use their power to attack and discriminate against people of faith, most often infringing on their freedoms of expression and religious conscience. Protecting people against draconian abuses of government power preserves good governance under the rule of law. The lengths to which the opposition goes to prevent the protection of a citizen's religious liberty confirms the necessity of enacting a RFRA in every state. The remaining states still considering whether to enact their own state religious freedom law should, therefore, urgently and expeditiously follow Indiana's example in protecting our First Amendment rights.

Professor William Wagner is Professor of Law and Director of Trinity International University's Center for Human Rights. He is a former federal judge and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at a major secular academic institution.

© William Wagner

 

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