Media distortion of Indiana’s religious freedom bill
‘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.