To the editor:
Now that the battlefield smoke regarding the emotional divide over Indiana’s Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA) has abated somewhat, I belatedly share a few reflections on this contentious issue. I will start by suggesting that almost none of the arguments for (or against) this legislation seem particularly compelling.
Regarding arguments in favor of the bill, the broadly accepted sense that government must — except in “extraordinary” circumstances — never interfere or constrain religious belief or practice is almost unassailable. However, having once supported RFRA based on that argument, I now confess to serious second thoughts.
My own arguments against the bill are twofold: (1) The bill is probably unnecessary. Protection of religious freedom is already enshrined in the U.S. and Indiana constitutions and is broadly supported, established federal law. (2) The bill is one more example of ambiguous statutory law conceding interpretation of such wording as “compelling interest” and “least restrictive” to the courts.
Further legislation will undoubtedly be required to clearly define those specific circumstances and areas of human interaction to which the words of RFRA actually apply.
The most emotional and contentious arguments against RFRA have focused on the very questionable allegation that it invites discrimination against those of different moral beliefs with an almost single-minded focus on the alleged damage it might do to same-sex couples.
I have never subscribed to that greatly misplaced concern — clearly at odds with the bill’s language. However if that concern should turn out to be real, the problem could be remedied by legislation clearly stating that a ban on that type of discrimination is of “compelling interest” to the state.
The weakest argument mounted against RFRA in my opinion was that it would greatly harm the ability of corporations, universities and other potential employers to attract highly valued individuals in the fields of the sciences, engineering, education and business critical to the future of these organizations.
In spite of all the pious hand-wringing, there is precious little evidence to suggest that organizations such as Cummins, Lilly, Indiana University, etc. have been seriously disadvantaged in terms of large numbers of high potential employees who place opposition to legislation such as RFRA so high on their priority list that it negates the salary, opportunities and status offered by these outstanding organizations.
Somehow I almost wish the legislation had never been brought up. Hopefully time will promote understanding and heal the bitter divisions the bill has caused.
David A. Nealy