Wednesday, April 01, 2015
A Tangled Web
Last week, he signed into law a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that has ignited a firestorm of protest, including an editorial by the CEO of Apple, Angie's List CEO putting a $40 million expansion of its headquarters in Indiana on hold and the Commissioner of the NCAA questioning whether its student-athletes and fans were safe from discrimination in the state.
He didn't help himself by going on ABC News’ “This Week With George Stephanopolous,” that you can see above. Among other things, he melted my irony meter and sent it on a China Syndrome journey to the center of the Earth when he said (07:15) he is working hard to clarify the law but repeatedly … six times ... refused to answer the straightforward question: 'Does this law allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians?'
Although Pence repeatedly compared the Indiana law to the Federal RFRA, legal experts, such as Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore disagree.
While Pence wouldn't answer the question directly, he repeatedly tried to poo-poo the notion that anyone in Indiana had any intent to discriminate against gays. Unfortunately for him, the supporters of the law, like Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, who was present at the private signing ceremony with Gov. Pence, said otherwise. On Tim Wildmon's radio show Clark said that going back and “clarifying” the law to say it is not about discrimination “could totally destroy this bill.” Wildmon agreed, saying that states have to defend “these Christian business owners against this kind of persecution.”
What kind of “persecution” are we talking about? Why, of course, something like this from Liberty Counsel:
Today, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is being lived out by bakers, photographers, florists, ministers, county clerks, and owners of wedding venues who have lost their businesses, been forced to pay exorbitant fines, been threatened with jail, and made to choose between the natural created order of marriage between one man and one woman and judges who side with same-sex couples.Others have been even more explicit.
Naturally, no one has been threatened with jail; no persons have have “lost” their businesses (though one bigot choose to close his/her business rather than serve LGBT people, I believe); no ministers have been threatened even with fines; and county clerks have simply been told to do their jobs under the law. But unreasoned fear is all the bigots have going for them.
Clearly the Religious Right fully expected the Indiana law to protect them from local anti-discrimination laws in the state, such as in Indianapolis. And why not? Pence kept reiterating that the law doesn't involve disputes between individuals but only applies to government “interference” with religious freedom. It doesn't take a genius to see that a local anti-discrimination laws are government action and when asked if he'd support adding LGBT to the state-wide anti-discrimination law, he responded that it wasn't part of his “agenda.”
The Republican politicians in Indiana have finally figured out which way the wind is blowing all over America and Pence has asked the legislature to “clarify” the law to assure everyone that it will not allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. Whether they will or not will have to await whatever “clarification” they come up with.
In the meantime, Arkansas had passed a RFRA with all the bad features of the Indiana law but adding an even greater bar to enforcing anti-discrimination laws. Where Indiana's law said that to “burden” a person's or corporation's religious freedom, the government or a private party trying to enforce an anti-discrimination law had to prove that the government had a “compelling governmental interest” in doing so, the Arkansas law required proof that the government's interest was an “essential” one. It's a bit of a moot point in Arkansas, however. In Indiana, as noted above, a number of local governments have passed anti-discrimination laws that protected LGBT people. Arkansas recently enacted a law that prohibits local governments from doing so and there is no statewide laws protecting gays.
Still, the brouhaha in Indiana and the opposition of Walmart, the largest nongovernmental employer in the world, which happens to be headquarted in Arkansas, has spooked the Republican party there. The governor, Asa Hutchinson, who had previously announced that he would sign the bill has now asked the legislature to either recall the law and change the wording or else to pass supplementary legislation achieving the same effect. Otherwise, he won't sign it.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council keeps trying to put on a brave face to the effect that marriage equality is not inevitable based on one outlier poll. If anything is certain, the last few days ought to dash any such false hopes.
I don't see an easy way for Pence to get out of this. He says he wants to clarify the law, but he is already getting push back on that from people who do want to use this law to discriminate. He probably cannot get the state legislature to support a "clarification" or a repeal.
The legislature will come up with a "clarification" (they're feeling the heat too) but, if it satisfies the bigots, it will just ignite another firestorm ... and vice versa
It also explicitly allows businesses and corporations, closely held or for profit, to be protected. I hear only one other state law has that. Although I also hear that the federal law has been successfully invoked in cases where the government is not involved.
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