Choosing Big Business Over Freedom

cashOn the eve of Good Friday, big business leaders jingled some silver in front of Indiana’s elected leaders to entice them away from defending religious freedom and sadly they took the silver. After huddling with CEOs and LGBT groups, the legislative leadership unveiled a new law that not only guts the state’s newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act but imposes punishing fines on people who follow their beliefs about marriage. While most were expecting some kind of ‘clarification,’ few expected the proposed law that outrageously contemplates criminal prosecution for business owners who decline to be a party to a same-sex ceremony. The proposal doesn’t directly create criminal punishment, but for the first time establishes that if the legislature were ever to adopt criminal penalties in the future, a religious freedom claim would provide NO DEFENSE against imprisonment. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty describes the proposed language as making “specific allowances for criminal prosecution.”

But the intolerant left isn’t waiting on lawmakers and the governor to sort out what punishments might be imposed. They have turned their fury on Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana all because a co-owner of the restaurant told a reporter, who was asking local small businesses if they would service same-sex weddings, that she would not cater a same-sex ‘wedding.’ The restaurant temporarily closed its doors yesterday “due to the volume of calls and threats it had received.”

You may be wondering why legislators, who just last week overwhelmingly voted to protect religious liberty, would now introduce a new law that would use the government as a weapon against people who simply follow their beliefs on marriage. It isn’t because the American people are clamoring for it. In fact, a new Rasmussen survey released just yesterday finds that 70 percent of Americans supports the right of a Christian wedding photographer to decline a same-sex ceremony. The answer is Big Business.

Big corporations like Apple, Angie’s List and Walmart are now putting religious freedom in a worse place than before RFRA was signed into law. Under this gutting law, even nonprofits deemed “not religious enough” face government discrimination for declining to facilitate same-sex wedding ceremonies. If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control.

Meanwhile there was a better outcome in Arkansas in the tussle over their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This afternoon the legislature approved and Governor Asa Hutchinson immediately held a ceremony where he signed into law an amended RFRA that mirrors the 1993 federal RFRA. “I think it’s sending the right signal,” said Governor Hutchinson.

Earlier this week things really heated up when two-thirds of the legislature voted to send HB 1228 — the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act — to the Governor, which he promised would receive his signature. However, after reportedly hearing from Walmart executives, he shocked everyone when he responded with a press conference calling on the legislature to go back to the drawing board and send him a bill that would “more closely mirror the federal RFRA.”

Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox had it right this afternoon when he said, “If the Arkansas General Assembly passes Senate Bill 975, most of what we were trying to accomplish will have been done. The original religious freedom bill, H.B. 1228, was the Rolls Royce of religious freedom laws. S.B. 975, the replacement bill, is a Cadillac.”


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Tony Perkins is President of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation's first Covenant Marriage law. He received his undergraduate degree from Liberty University and a Master's Degree from Louisiana State University in Public Administration. Perkins is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and a former police officer and television news reporter.
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