Republican Party religious freedom advocates in Indiana are gearing up to bring two bills to the table in the 2015 session that starts the first week of January. The bills aim to strengthen religious liberty and fill in the gaps revealed by recent court decisions to strike down same-sex marriage bans. Though civil rights activists fear the legislation is an excuse for legalized discrimination, the bills’ Republican Party proponents defend the right of people of faith to express their beliefs and stand by their principles without fear of recrimination and legal action.
Following in the wake of Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, Indiana Senator Jim Smith will once again propose a “Merry Christmas bill” making it officially legal for schools to put up Christmas decorations, including nativity scenes and to say “Merry Christmas” or sing religious Christmas carols. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa would be equally protected under the law so that anyone can celebrate the holiday of their choice publicly, without having to hide that part of who they are. The Republican Party believes that adherents of different faiths can co-exist peacefully and amicably alongside others who are celebrating other holidays without the threat of legal repercussions.
Smith said that many people’s sacred traditions are slowly being stolen from, depriving children of their cultural heritage, all to appease the prejudices of those who mistake the constitutional guarantee of “freedom of religion” for the right to never be exposed, even tangentially to anyone else’s beliefs and traditions, even if they are not proselytizing. The Republican Party bill aims to defend people’s rights to celebrate the traditions of their faith while respecting the rights of others to do the same.
Republican Senator Scott Schneider is drawing up battle plans over a proposal to enact protective measures for people of conscience and faith. In light of the rulings eliminating same-sex marriage bans, the Republican Party recognizes that they could conceivably be put in the precarious position of choosing between their integrity and complying with a law that violates their beliefs. It is not without precedent that bakeries, florists, wedding chapels and churches have been threatened with legal action and smear campaigns if they decline to provide services for same-sex couples because of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
In 2013, a bakery in Gresham, Oregon took much heat over its owner’s refusal to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. In the backlash against the bakery for its decision, they were forced to close down. Melissa Klein, co-owner of the bakery with her husband, Aaron refutes the idea that love equates to approving of everything another person believes or does and that disagreement or disapproval means fear or hate. She insists that such a conclusion is irrational and foolish, pointing out that compassion and convictions are not mutually exclusive. Bakeries in Indiana and Colorado have experienced similar difficulties with refusing wedding service to same-sex couples.
Schneider wants to prevent such conflict by making it legal for business owners to stand by their consciences in making business decisions. The Supreme Court defended this right in its decision to allow Hobby Lobby to opt out of the contraceptive coverage in providing benefits to its employees under the Affordable Care Act. To force someone to violate their conscience in defense of not discriminating against another person, is honestly just perpetrating discrimination against a person of faith and their right to stand by their beliefs with integrity. American Family Association of Indiana director, Micah Clark explains that the Republican Party bill is really about freedom of conscience and placing restraints on the government’s ability to trample freedom of speech or religion in the name of preventing discrimination.
Already at least 19 states have enacted religious protection legislation in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage. Additional proposals are in process in Georgia, Michigan and several other states. The new Indiana General Assembly’s conservative makeup gives this bill a decent chance of serious consideration, in both Republican-controlled chambers. Schneider assures voters that defending against religious prejudice, not discrimination is the goal. The Republican Party just wants to make sure that freedom and religious liberty get all the protections they need and deserve.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser