“No BLTs for LGBTs”: Indiana’s new ‘Religious Freedom’ Law
by Princess Consuela Bananahammok on March 31, 2015 - 9:34pm
Last Thursday, the state of Indiana passed a controversial law, Bill 101, also know as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allows business owners to deny service to certain customers on the basis of their (the business owners’) religious beliefs. The new piece of legislation was interpreted by the public as an opportunity for overt segregation, especially regarding the LGBT community. Some people took to the streets of Indiana in protest, but a far larger number reached for their smartphones and tweeted using the hashtag #BoycottIndiana to make their voices heard. The movement garnered celebrity support from the likes of George Takei, Miley Cyrus, Hillary Clinton, Chris Rock and many others. The aim of this hashtag campaign is essentially to impose economic sanctions on the state by refusing to buy goods or services either produced in, or from businesses headquartered in Indiana in order to denounce what is seen as a discriminatory law hidden under the cloak of freedom of religion. This most recent wave of hashtagtivism highlights a very important ethical issue, some may even say it is at the core of democracy; that of the separation of Church and State.
While the main issue here may appear to be the conflict between religious freedom and non-discrimination, #BoycottIndiana raises much deeper concerns. Indeed, it is hard for some people to draw the line between expressing their beliefs freely and being discriminatory. However, that is why governments and laws were put into place: to help all individuals coexist in a respectful manner. Unfortunately, in the case of Indiana, it seems that there has been a slight mix-up regarding democratic principles to say the least. Putting forward a law which allows open discrimination against any specific group — even though LGBTs are not a protected group in Indiana, so technically they could have been discriminated against before Bill 101 — is utterly shameful and goes against the very fabric of democracy. Religious freedom is not the freedom to impose religious beliefs on others. Religious freedom is not the freedom from having to interact with someone who’s practices go against your faith; it is the right for ALL to practice, or not to, the religion they believe in without having to fear repercussions. Many tweets with the hashtag #BoycottIndiana have compared far right Christians’ beliefs, in terms of policies, with that of Muslim extremists; the underlying resemblance, here, being the lack of separation between Church and State. The fact that a state government, in this day and age, has the power to turn back time, metaphorically of course, and undo progress that has been made through numerous struggles over the past decades is horrifying and raises questions about the actual wheels of democracy and their effectiveness.
One of these fundamental questions is: how can a religious group be given enough influence to enact their beliefs into law? The answer is not simple and would require a more extensive analysis of the political system in question and how it operates, but it is doubtless that Churches, even though they pay no taxes, have a great influence on their parishioners who can vote for whomever their Pastors suggests. Nonetheless, the simple fact that this issue is now being raised brings to the forefront the absurdity of the situation; if State and Church are to be independent how can one exert such influence over the other. Legislation should be made independently of religious doctrine or values in order to accommodate all citizens which it claims to represent. #BoycottIndiana shows the world how democracy has taken a wrong turn and backed-up into a pile of old garbage many saw as far behind, and aims to do something about it by initiating crowd-sustained, economic, sanctions against the state. However, the hashtag, meant as a cry for democracy, has also created an opposing movement #StandWithIndiana.
Twitter, unlike the state of Indiana, has allowed for both sides to make themselves heard and has therefore been a platform for further social debate. #StandWithIndiana is used by those opposing the boycott campaign. Although it is far less popular than its rival #BoycottIndiana, this may be explained by the simple fact that many users employ the latter to make their opposing views public. The opponents of the boycott campaign see the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a simple protection of the First Amendment of the American Constitution which allows freedom of speech and religion amongst others claiming that business owners should have the right to refuse customers that go against their religious beliefs. The First Amendment, however, also includes an Establishment Clause which essentially opposes the accordance of preferential treatment to a particular religion by government. Therefore, separation of State and Church is clearly entrenched in the American Constitution, yet Indiana’s new law must be falling in a grey zone for it blurs the lines between the two types of institutions.