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Editorial: Indiana's hasty retreat

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Posted on April 6, 2015 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



The irony in Indiana’s hasty retreat from its recently passed “religious freedom” law is that it was largely led by Republican businessmen, Chamber of Commerce leaders and legislators who realized the bigotry of the law would be damaging to the state’s bottom line. In the Republican arsenal of values-based politics, in this case money trumped religion.

And it did so in a comparative nanosecond.

While Indiana’s “religious freedom” law was introduced in the state legislature just this January, passed earlier this week and reversed by Thursday, its genesis harkens back to 2009 when religious conservatives — an alliance of Roman Catholic archbishops and evangelical Christians — adopted what became known as the Manhattan Manifesto, which declared in no uncertain terms that those churches and their congregations would not cooperate with any laws they said would “compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples,” according to a story in the Nov. 20, 2009, issue of the New York Times.

 “We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence,” according to a Times report quoting the manifesto, which was released prominently at the National Press Club, the Times wrote, “to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush.”

How quickly we forget the political priorities of that Republican administration and the conservatives that then dominated the nation’s political discourse. In that era this issue was cloaked under the veil of religious freedom, but drew its fervor from the roots of discrimination: fear, misunderstanding and hate.

The manifesto was a signal to newly elected President Barack Obama and to Congress that the religious conservatives were still, the Times wrote, “a formidable force that would not compromise on abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage.” Furthermore, the Times wrote, the alliance wanted “younger Christians who have become engaged in issues like climate change and global poverty, and who are more accepting of homosexuality than their elders…(that) abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom are still paramount issues. … We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues.” That was just six years ago.

The manifesto, of course, was a bunch of hooey. Religious institutions would never be forced to do anything against their will, as the Times reported, noting there were “existing conscience clauses in effect that allow medical professionals and hospitals to opt out of performing certain procedures and religious exemptions written into same-sex marriage bills.”

But what did happen since 2009 is that the religious right lost its voice, while the same-sex marriage community gained a stronger voice — particularly though Supreme Court rulings. The Windsor case in 2013 was a turning point. It required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages from states that allowed such unions.

Since then, conservatives have been fighting back, notably by passing a slew of state-sponsored “religious freedom laws.” Today, 20 states have such laws on the books, 12 in just the past year.

Indiana’s religious freedom law, however, was one of the nation’s most expansive and the state did not have civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity embedded in the state constitution, as do most other states.

It was that lack of protection for those citizens, as well as the belief by many conservatives that Indiana’s religious freedom law would protect businesses who chose not to serve those citizens that tipped the tables in a big hurry. Suddenly the NCAA tournament was looming and national criticism of the recently passed law prompted those officials to condemn the law as discriminatory and talked of moving the event; national corporations such as Apple and other Silicon Valley leaders railed against the law, as did the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The mayor of Indianapolis, a Republican in this heavily Republican state, appeared on NPR saying how much the law was hurting the city and undermining recent progress.

By Thursday, just a couple days after the law’s passage, Republican legislators and conservative Republican Gov. Mike Pence had conceded and changed the law to avoid blatant discrimination.

Conservative Christians are fuming and unsettled by the setback, but there is common ground. All seem to agree (with big money leading the conversation for conservatives) that blatant discrimination against people based on sex, color, nationality or sexual preference is not to be condoned. Where the haggling remains is when a service provider (say a wedding singer or wedding caterer) doesn’t have the right to say no to a potential customer who requests their services. But then, how does that differ from refusing to serve a customer in a restaurant, or any business, based on their color, sex, nationality or sexual preference?

Angelo S. Lynn

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