Indiana religious freedom law sparks discussion

Indiana passes IRFRA amendment that aims to protect churches and non-profit organizations.

Sarah Pineda, Writer

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Ever since the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act became national headline news when passed on March 26, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, religion reporter for The Washington Post and from Indianapolis, Indiana, has been swamped with coverage.

“There was so much confusion about what it would actually mean for businesses, patrons and Indiana, it just wasn’t very clear initially,” Bailey said.

Receiving much controversy and debate, the LGBT community argued it was a form of legal discrimination that granted businesses the right to refuse service based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The IRFRA will be put into effect beginning July 1, 2015. Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed an amendment with the law on April 2 that prohibits private companies and businesses from refusing their services and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, altering the IRFRA to protect churches and non-profit organizations.

OLD LAW, NEW CONTROVERSY

The original federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Since then, 21 other states have passed religious freedom laws similar to the IRFRA in the past. Bailey found it interesting that the law, which was uncontroversial before, is very controversial now.

“It’s another example of how religious freedom debates are getting wrapped with gay rights debates,” Bailey said.

Donna Downs, media communication professor at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana believed the law resulted in mixed responses from locals in the state. Downs said her Christian friends are in favor of the law.   

“I thought the law was fine as it was signed the first time. It appears the media made it to be more than it was, and unfortunately, did much disservice to the state,” Downs said.

When President Obama served as state senator for Illinois, he voted for the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Because of this, the context of the IRFRA is not new.

“A lot has changed culturally and socially since the 1990s to 2015 where you pass a similar piece of legislation in 2015 and people start to ‘oh so this means that a religious person can refuse to serve a gay person’ when the answer is no, the answer has been and always will be no,” said Scott Waller, political science professor and chair of the political science department.

Areli Gonzalez, junior elementary education major, disagreed with the initial writing of the IRFRA.

“As believers we don’t agree with their sexual orientation, but that doesn’t mean we should reject them or ignore them and mistreat them. God has called us to show the love of Christ and if we’re being mean and ignoring and denying jobs to people like that then we aren’t doing what the Lord has called us to do,” Gonzalez said.