Me­dia dis­tor­tion of In­di­ana’s re­li­gious free­dom bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY JOSEPH CURL

‘In­di­ana Gover­nor Signs Anti-Gay ‘Re­li­gious Free­dom’ Bill At Pri­vate Cer­e­mony,” blared the head­line in the Huff­in­g­ton Post. “Law­mak­ers To ‘Clar­ify’ Anti-Gay Law,” screamed Na­tional Public Ra­dio. “In­di­ana’s Pence tries to de­fend new anti-gay mea­sure,” barked MSNBC. “Pence: In­di­ana ‘not go­ing to change’ anti-LGBT law,” bel­lowed CNN.

Sud­denly, In­di­ana hates gays. Thou­sands rushed into In­di­anapo­lis to protest the gay haters, the NCAA bashed the leg­is­la­ture for its ho­mo­pho­bia, and big busi­nesses like Angie’s List de­clared they would shun the state.

Never mind that the new law — the Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act, passed in a bi­par­ti­san vote — isn’t anti-any­thing, gay or oth­er­wise. And for­get that 19 other states have passed iden­ti­cal laws, and that Pres­i­dent Obama sup­ported just such a law when he was a state se­na­tor in Illi­nois. And don’t even think about the fact that Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton signed into law a fed­eral ver­sion with nearly iden­ti­cal lan­guage in 1993.

No, the me­dia has made up a story that In­di­ana hates gays, that the new law will al­low lynch­ing of ho­mo­sex­u­als in the streets, and there’s no stop­ping the lib­eral on­slaught now.

“Yes or no, if a florist in In­di­ana re­fuses to serve a gay cou­ple at their wed­ding, is that legal now in In­di­ana?” Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, host of ABC’s “This Week” and a for­mer Clin­ton flunkie, asked In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence on Sun­day. In fact, he asked the gover­nor the same ques­tion a half-dozen times, of­ten in­ter­rupt­ing him as he de­manded Mr. Pence sim­ply ad­mit that he hates gays.

“There’s been shame­less rhetoric about my state,” Mr. Pence said, “and about this law and about its in­ten­tion all over the In­ter­net. Peo­ple are try­ing to make it about one par­tic­u­lar is­sue. And now you’re do­ing that as well.”

Mr. Pence ex­plained that “the law does not ap­ply, Ge­orge, to dis­putes be­tween in­di­vid­u­als un­less gov­ern­ment ac­tion is in­volved. And in point of fact, in more than two decades, the Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act has never been used to un­der­mine anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws in this coun­try.”

He pointed out that the fed­eral law “lays out a frame­work for en­sur­ing that a very high level of scru­tiny is given any time gov­ern­ment ac­tion im­pinges on the re­li­gious lib­erty of any Amer­i­can.” And he said all the ruckus of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against gays is a “red her­ring,” declar­ing that the law is about “gov­ern­ment over­reach.”

But none of that stopped the for­mer press spokesman for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton from pur­su­ing his line of ques­tion­ing: “Does that mean that Chris­tians who want to refuse ser­vice or peo­ple of any other faith who want to refuse ser­vice to gays and les­bians, that it’s now legal in the state of In­di­ana? That’s the sim­ple yes or no ques­tion.”

At least, that’s the ques­tion for the knee-jerk me­dia that doesn’t bother to do its homework. For the record, here’s the lan­guage of the fed­eral law: “Gov­ern­ment may sub­stan­tially bur­den a per­son’s ex­er­cise of reli­gion only if it 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.”

Here’s the lan­guage of the In­di­ana law: “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.” Um. Nearly iden­ti­cal. But great minds still find the state law ob­jec­tion­able. Mi­ley Cyrus called Mr. Pence an “a**hole,” and bril­liant thinker Ash­ton Kusher won­dered if In­di­ana would “al­low Chris­tian es­tab­lish­ments to ban Jews from com­ing in?” Even Star Trek’s Sulu weighed in, say­ing he was “out­raged.”

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton also jumped into the fray, say­ing it is “sad this new In­di­ana law can hap­pen in Amer­ica to­day.” And New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who co-spon­sored the fed­eral leg­is­la­tion as a young mem­ber of the House, tweeted to the NCAA that his great state doesn’t “dis­crim­i­nate.” Asked by the Weekly Stan­dard to ex­plain his new ob­jec­tion to the law, he said, “Not right now.”

Let’s be clear: The new In­di­ana law does not le­gal­ize dis­crim­i­na­tion against any­one. No busi­ness can refuse to serve a pa­tron be­cause he or she is gay, black, Mus­lim, left-handed or any­thing else. The state law sim­ply mir­rors the fed­eral law so that cases can be han­dled within In­di­ana — now the 20th state with such a law.

Those 20 laws have noth­ing to do with dis­crim­i­nat­ing against gays — or any mi­nor­ity. They sim­ply ban the gov­ern­ment from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against re­li­gious Amer­i­cans.

Still, the af­ter­math is clear: Democrats and lib­er­als, es­pe­cially in the me­dia, have no prob­lem dis­crim­i­nat­ing against re­li­gious Amer­i­cans.

And as al­ways with both, the ends jus­tify the means.

Joseph Curl cov­ered the White House and pol­i­tics for a decade for The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@ gmail.com and on Twit­ter @josephcurl.

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