Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights in Indiana

Indiana Governor Mike Pence
There has been a lot of conversation in the last few days about Indiana's new religious liberty bill. Liberals think it is anti-gay and thus discriminatory.  Conservatives, and especially Christian conservatives who oppose gay marriage, think it is a victory for religious freedom.  Now other states and cities are boycotting Indiana.

Was such a law needed?  I'm not sure that it was.  Will the boycott of Indiana by other politicians hurt ordinary people in Indiana, including LGBT business owners?  Probably. As a friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook, "the dopes who passed the legislation will feel no pain, nor will the government officials in those other states and cities."

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and a self-professed supporter of gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws against LGBT citizens, has offered an interesting middle ground on this whole debate.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at USA Today:

For as long as I can remember, the culture wars have been poisoning our politics, turning Democrats and Republicans into mortal enemies and transforming arenas that used to be blithely bipartisan into battlegrounds between good and evil. Now our battles over "family values" are threatening to kill religious liberty. And liberals do not much seem to care.
In a recent speech at Boston UniversityUniversity of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock observed that America's sexual revolution seems to be going the way of theFrench Revolution, in which religion and liberty cannot coexist. Today pro-choice and gay rights groups increasingly view conservative Christians as bigots hell bent on imposing their primitive beliefs on others.
Rather than viewing today's culture wars as battles between light and darkness,Laycock sees them as principled disagreements. What one side views as "grave evils," the other side views as "fundamental human rights." What is needed if we want to preserve liberty in both religion and sexuality is a grand bargain in which the left would agree not to impose its secular morality on religious individuals while the right would agree not to impose its religious rules on society at large.
Any takers? Is it really necessary to pin a scarlet letter on those who believe the Bible prohibits gay marriage? Or might we learn to be satisfied with preserving liberty for ourselves without imposing our ideals (on sex or religion) on others?
Admittedly, there are problems with Indiana's RFRA. For example, it extends religious liberty protections to corporations. But few liberals are up in arms about that. The left sees this law as a blank check to discriminate. But RFRAs are not blank checks. They simply offer religious minorities a day in court, and only rarely do these cases concern gay rights. Recently the Supreme Court employed the RFRA test to allow a Muslim prisoner to wear a beard and in Pennsylvania that same test was used to allow churches to feed the homeless in city parks.
Almost all of my liberal friends disagree with me on this. That is their right. But in my view the Old Order Amish have an equally fundamental right to drive their horse-drawn buggies on Indiana roads. So do Muslim students in Indianapolis public schools who want to be released from class in order to celebrate their Eid al-Adha festival.
Let's not let culture warriors, on either side, sacrifice our freedoms on the altar of the culture wars.