The state of Indiana has been in an uproar lately, following Gov. Mike Pence’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law states that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” and has drawn significant backlash from those who believe the law provides grounds for discrimination against homosexuals on the basis of religion.
Gov. Pence and other initial supporters of Indiana’s RFRA have been lambasted by critics, and the state has been slapped with travel bans, boycotts of its businesses and even a sarcastic commercial stating that Indiana is a “great place to be a bigot.”
But those who called for the law’s overhaul aren’t telling the whole story. The Indiana law was nearly identical to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress in 1993. In fact, Indiana is one of 20 states to have passed a similar law since the federal act was passed.
Nevertheless, on April 2, the law was amended to include language clarifying that it did not in any way protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. The problem with this is that, while the original legislation did not necessarily protect discrimination, its revision may allow the government to force Christians to tacitly support ceremonies and lifestyles that go against their faith.
The popular idea that RFRA gives Christians license for discrimination is a gross misinterpretation of the act. As written, the law doesn’t protect discrimination, and it shouldn’t. Rather, it protects Christians from being forced to endorse lifestyles that are contrary to their beliefs.
Christian radio talk show host Janet Parshall put it this way: “If someone who dealt with same-sex attraction walked into a photographer and said, ‘Would you take my picture?’ I don’t think the photographer would ever stop and say, ‘Wait, first fill out this form and tell me your sexual orientation.’ That is the farthest thing on their mind. That is the last thing they would want to do.”
But, Parshall continued, if the individual asked the Christian photographer to photograph his or her homosexual wedding, the individual would be asking the photographer to participate in, and in that way, support the ceremony. And that’s where the problem lies, Parshall said.
The new language added to Indiana’s RFRA takes another step down the slippery slope toward religious suppression. It strips Christians of the very protection the law was originally designed to give and leaves them little to no defense in court when faced with discrimination lawsuits.
So what is our course of action in such bleak circumstances?
In a society that seems determined to destroy our religious liberty, we must be equally determined to preserve it. To those who accuse us of discrimination, bigotry and hate, we must show the grace, mercy and love of Christ. We must be firm in our stand for Christ, yet do so in a way that will attract the lost to Him.