Dear Indiana, This Is NOT Religious Freedom



Dear Indiana,

You’re a nice state. I mean, you’ve got Bloomington and the Colts, dunes on Lake Michigan, cornfields, windmills, country concerts and the world’s best funnel cakes at your county fairs. You have a lot going for you.

But if there’s one mark against you, its last week’s signing of ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ by Governor Mike Pence. The act allows for the citing of religious beliefs as a defense for anyone prosecuted by a private party for discrimination. The main concerns with this legislature regard treatments of same-sex couples. Because Indiana business owners now are legally protected from ramifications for their refusal to serve, sell, aid or cater to gay persons on the basis of personal convictions.

“I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Governor Pence said in a very private, quiet ceremony last week.

Which is ironic. Because this is not religious freedom.

The legislative mandate that I am able to deny someone else goods or services because I judge their beliefs as being in opposition to mine, creates a dangerous paradigm. As a Christian, I am now protected in openly and publically refusing mechanical assistance, food services, and even banking to someone, just because they are gay. Take a moment to tinker with that sentence; remove the words “Christian” and “gay” and insert “Aryan” and “Jewish” in their stead. Try it with “white” and “black.” Are you nervous yet?

This is why history books will one day recognize the gay rights movement as another sad chapter in the story of the American Church.

Because we, as American Christians, have proven once again that we will go to great lengths to avoid our oppression. We’ve proven that our knee-jerk reaction to the slightest scent of persecution is to rise up and pull whatever political strings are necessary to ensure that we are safe. It doesn’t matter who isn’t protected, just so long as we’re left unscathed.

Thus, in an effort to avoid being oppressed, the Church willingly takes on the role of oppressor.

This is not religious freedom. And it certainly is not Christian.

We would be wise- in debates such as these- to reconsider our earthly role as the body of Christ. Because the calling of the Christian is not to legislate our beliefs. The Biblical mandate for Christian relationships with earthly kingdoms is not to force them into alignment with our personal journeys of sanctification. Rather, God commands that the church be a city on a hill, a vibrant example of Christ’s love in contrast to the world’s corruption, evil, oppression and hate.

We ought not say: “let us ensure that our’s is a Christian government.” Because it never will be.

Rather, what we should be saying, what we should be living, is a life that tells the world: “Look at how nations go to war and kill each other- we Christians love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Look at how the kingdoms are enthroned with power and money- we Christians share possessions openly with everyone. Look at how governments close borders to refugees in need- we Christians open our houses to anyone. Look at how people discriminate and hurt, we Christians love and cherish the marginalized, broken and yes- even the sinful. Lest we forget the log in our own eye.”

But we cannot say this. Not right now, anyway. We’re too busy protesting, arguing and advocating for our ‘rights.’ When we’ve accomplished that, we might see to those of others. Maybe.

Which is to say every Christian in Indiana and the rest of America should look upon this law with ominous shudders because of the precedent it establishes for those Christians across the globe who really are facing persecution. Today, thousands of Christians live under the oppression of radical religious rule (have we forgotten the plight of Iraqi Christians under ISIS who are forced to pay a hefty tax or convert?). Christians live in fear, many unable to attain basic services or earn a living. They are boycotted, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed. All this because a radical Muslim’s expression of their religious convictions is protected by their judicial law.

And that’s not religious freedom.

True, refusing to serve someone at the local diner doesn’t equate to beating them and taking their wallet. But history tells us- again, Germany circa 1935- that its not too far behind. And it’s a slippery slide.

To many of us, this law will be of little concern. We will never feel its ramifications. Maybe this is because we don’t live in Indiana. Maybe it’s because we’re part of the religious status quo. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy making sure that religious freedom means: “I’m safe and I’m free.”

But -if we’re being honest, Indiana- we know that this is not religious freedom. It’s the tyranny of self-interest. And it’s been the go-to reaction of American Christians for far too long.

The issue of homosexuality is a real one. It is an issue of moral and theological implications that all Christians should grapple with. But someone else’s conviction regarding their sexuality has nothing to do with Christ’s mandate that- above all else- I am to show love, hospitality, generosity, empathy and care.

We must come to value the freedom of Christ more than our ‘freedom of religion.’ The freedom of Christ moves us to find new ways to love all others at all times. And it certainly doesn’t allow us to go on a legislative binge whenever we get the sense that culture is treading on our toes.

My hope is that one day the American Church will be known, not for the legislature we erect in self-defense, but for the dividing walls we destroy with our love. It can happen. And in the grand scheme of things, Indiana, you’re not a bad place to start.

After all, you have funnel cakes.



A Christian in support of freedom



P.S. And, by the way, what exactly is a ‘Hoosier??’




3 thoughts on “Dear Indiana, This Is NOT Religious Freedom

  1. #1, you have to add Arkansas to this drivel.

    #2. Dear William B. Ames,

    This Is A FAIL in American Civics and Reading Comprehension.

    I am aware that there was a RFRA (Publication L, No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488) in November 16, 1993, signed into law by a certain guy named “Bill Clinton” under the 103rd Congress, including 57 Democrat Senators (43 Republicans) and 258 Democrat members of the House (176 Republicans). This Bill Clinton also introduced added Executive Orders in 1996 for more security for sacred sites for Native American religious rites.

    Numerous states have, since 1993, introduced legislation including similar language as the federal RFRA, which even the highly conservative (I hope you detect the sarcasm) newspaper, “The Washington Post” has noted — that 19 OTHER states — including say, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Idaho, Virgina and Florida (are these like highly Christianized or something?!) — have. Now granted, Arizona and New Mexico are south enough to be in the Bible belt and they too have RFRA legislation. As do TX, OK, KS, MO, TN, KY, SC, AL, TN, MS, and LA, but they don’t count, because they’re in the Bible belt. And Arkansas today.

    Needless to say, we could then look at the actual bill, say the “Indiana Senate Bill 101”.

    I like primary sources. It’s something that was drilled into me doing my graduate work. Never quote from a questionable source.

    Here we go.

    Now compare it to the 1993 RFRA …

    (Check page 2 and 3 of 4)

    (a) IN GENERAL — Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion …. except as provided in subsection (b)

    (b) EXCEPTION — 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.

    etc. etc.



    “Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.”

    Bill (pages 2-3)
    Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entitle may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
    (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that the 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 the compelling governmental interest.

    Suspiciously the Indiana version smells and looks like the Federal version. Hmm!

    Please read on in Sections 9+10. Then such persons who believe them to be burdened can appeal to the courts (“in a judicial or administrative proceeding” … “If a court or other tribunal…”)

    Now, after our civics and reading comprehension lesson, let’s ask a few questions.

    – Is this about Christians who can indiscriminately deny or withhold goods and services from homosexuals?
    Certainly not.

    The Christian would have to demonstrate to a court that his or her practice of religion is being hampered by serving goods and services and the court has the final say.

    In fact, a Stanford law professor, Michael McConnell, a former appellate court judge mentions, “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or everyone else.”

    Here’s a guy who is an Indiana law professor:
    “… RFRA is *not* a blank check to discriminate.”

    My goodness, maybe let’s ask some pro same-sex people their opinion about the RFRA and its oppression. We could go to a conservative outlet (against, sarcasm) like the Indianapolis Star: Daniel O. Conkle, professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

    How about a University of Virginia Law Professor (Douglas Laycock) who supports Gay Marriage, surely he would be against the RFRA?


    1. Thanks for the comment and for your generous assessment of my rhetoric. These primary sources are helpful and I appreciate you taking the time to make such an informed objection. Though I stand by what I said, I do hope you keep reading and commenting. Informed dissenters keep a blog honest and richen the conversations at hand, both of which are necessary.

      Thanks again for reading.

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