Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Indiana--“The Crossroads of America” in Its Crosshairs

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Indianapolis, IN
Last Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law SB 101, a state level application of the federal  Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In his press conference, he cited both the precedent for such legislation set by 19 other states in recent years, as well as his perception of the need for clear safeguards to religious liberty in the state of Indiana.

“The Crossroads of America” is now in its crosshairs. With the exception of Arizona, no other similar legislative processes have caused such furor. It seems that this law differs from other states’ laws in a few ways, notably as it is applied not just to individuals, but to businesses. So, while nothing in its language even mentions same-sex “weddings,” opponents construe from it an intent to protect defendants who not only withhold products and services for such events on religious grounds, but who also deny gays necessities like health care, employment, and housing.

Actually, the bill was designed to defend the right to freedom of religion from unnecessary government intrusion. This right is protected not only by the First Amendment, but by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Since in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that this Act is to be applied only on the federal level, states must decide to apply it within their jurisdictions. Hence Indiana’s proposed legislation.

The state’s dust-up occurred when influential LGBT individual and business advocates nationwide threw their financial weight behind the opposition. The damage they threatened against Indiana’s economy has now moved the State Congress to propose an amendment to the law specifically prohibiting perceived gender-based action by individuals or businesses. If the “fix” is passed, it would mark the first time in U.S. history that the issue of sexual orientation is integrated into legislation designed to protect religious freedom. Because such a “fix” would render religious freedom law ineffectual in practice, several analysts and religious leaders decidedly oppose it:
“All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but sexual orientation and gender identity laws are not the way to achieve that goal.…These laws create new, subjective protected classes that will expose employers to unimaginable liability, and would increase government interference in labor markets….
     “It would also threaten the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions….Sexual orientation and gender identity laws would treat expressing these beliefs in a commercial context as actionable discrimination” (Ryan T. Anderson, The Daily Signal).
That said, we might well question ourselves about our attitudes toward those whose sexual orientation or religious convictions differ from ours. Not too long ago, when we still had a Pauline Books & Media Center downtown San Francisco, a gay couple came in shortly before Christmas looking for a Nativity set for their home. While I regretted seeing them live their friendship in this way, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind to refuse my service in protest.

We would have had no problem selling the crèche of their choice to someone else. So my attitude, like that of us all at PBM, was purely a matter of remaining true to our mission of evangelization. I was called to image in myself what we offered on our shelves. Lecturing them wouldn’t have accomplished anything. Since they were only occasional church-goers, I encouraged them not to be strangers—an invitation that would have fallen on deaf ears had I snapped the tenuous thread that connected them with the Church. People have walked away from the Church for less.

Except when faced with aiding and abetting a criminal, we have no way of knowing, much less of controlling, what people do with what they buy. God hasn’t appointed us to police people’s wrongheaded choices. He puts up with an awful lot of them, including ours, not withholding his good graces from anyone. Can’t we?
“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 10).
In their joint statement  on SB 101 the Catholic bishops of Indiana wrote:
“We urge all people of good will to show mutual respect for one another so that the necessary dialogue and discernment can take place to ensure that no one in Indiana will face discrimination whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs….The rights of a person should never be used inappropriately in order to deny the rights of another. We are called to justice and mercy” (Indiana Catholic Conference, April 1, 2015).
This Sunday, dedicated to Divine Mercy, Pope Francis intends to officially announce a special Jubilee Year of Mercy, Dec. 8, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016. Can we bring to this jubilee the summons of Indiana’s bishops to “justice and mercy” as we pray for a change of heart for us all regarding this issue?

Resources for clarity…or more questions:
•    Indiana Catholic Conference, Statement on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
•    Chris Good, “Religious Freedom: The Difference Between Indiana’s Law and All the Others,” ABC News, April 1, 2015
•    Tony Cook, “Gov. Mike Pence signs ‘religious freedom’ bill in private,” Indy Star, April 2, 2015 The article contains the governor’s full statement.
•    Ryan T. Anderson, “Indiana Has Changed Its Religious Liberty Law. Here Is What That Means.” The Daily Signal, April 2, 2015
•    Catholic News Agency, “Troubled by Indiana reaction, Christian leaders stress gravity of religious liberty,” April 6, 2015
•    David von Drehle, “The Battle of Indiana,” Time, April 13, 2015: 28-35. Because it went to press before the latest developments in the case, this treatment is best understood in the light of the more recent coverage listed above.
•    The Anchoress: March 30, 2015  and April 2, 2015.
(Indiana SB101), April 1, 2015

Photo: Vintagejhan, Wikimedia Commons.
Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation.


Sarah Schmalenberger said...

The line that speaks best to me: "God hasn’t appointed us to police people’s wrongheaded choices." Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as well as the very helpful resources for further reading

Brian Reilly said...

I think that most people could understand the logic of this law if they would only allow practicality to set in rather then emotion. This law in no way suggests that anyone who owns a business has the right to disrespect or be hurtful to people of any faith or sexual orientation, all it does is reenforce their right to religious freedom and expression. Can you imagine a Jewish owned specialty bakeshop being forced to make a cake with Nazi symbols on it, sounds absurd but it really isn't if the business doesn't have the right to refuse such a request. I would also like to point out that Christians are once again being polarized as uncaring and unfeeling bigots which couldn't be further from the truth. Christians are being singled out because it is a religion of peace and as such they are an easy target for those who are threatened by the strength of their convictions.

Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Interesting take from Commonweal

Sr. Margaret Chas. Kerry