Last week I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, which ensures that Indiana law will respect religious freedom and apply the highest level of scrutiny to any state or local governmental action that infringes on people’s religious liberty. Unfortunately, the law has stirred a controversy and in recent days has been grossly misconstrued as a “license to discriminate.”…

I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore. As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993…

As Thomas Jefferson noted, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.” I regret that false narratives and misrepresentations of the RFRA have taken hold.

Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.

All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.

The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.

Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.

“The coalition broke apart over the civil rights issues,” said Eunice Rho, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization, which initially supported [state RFRA] measures, now opposes them unless they include language ensuring that they will not be used to permit discrimination or harm…

“With courts and legislatures ending bans on same-sex marriage, some who oppose it have turned to Plan B, the use of religion,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, director of the Law and Policy Project at Lambda Legal, a gay rights group. “Essentially, they are saying that if same-sex couples can come into the public arena, we want the right to selectively build a moat around ourselves.”…

“We do not ask the government to bless our doctrinal convictions, or to impose them on others,” said Russell Moore, who heads the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences.”

For as long as I can remember, the culture wars have been poisoning our politics, turning Democrats and Republicans into mortal enemies and transforming arenas that used to be blithely bipartisan into battlegrounds between good and evil. Now our battles over “family values” are threatening to kill religious liberty. And liberals do not much seem to care.

In a recent speech at Boston University, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock observed that America’s sexual revolution seems to be going the way of the French Revolution, in which religion and liberty cannot coexist. Today pro-choice and gay rights groups increasingly view conservative Christians as bigots hell bent on imposing their primitive beliefs on others.

Rather than viewing today’s culture wars as battles between light and darkness, Laycock sees them as principled disagreements. What one side views as “grave evils,” the other side views as “fundamental human rights.” What is needed if we want to preserve liberty in both religion and sexuality is a grand bargain in which the left would agree not to impose its secular morality on religious individuals while the right would agree not to impose its religious rules on society at large.

I understand that the aim of the boycott is not to hurt the Hoosiers, but to inspire Pence to change his mind (a tactic that did prevent Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer from signing a similar law). Still, I’m troubled by the idea that every aspect of life should be politicized—that people are not worthy of engagement or commercial exchange unless they and their government represent a perfect reflection of one’s own views. As Reason’s Brian Doherty wrote about the Duck Dynasty controversy, “The idea that people should be punished with boycotts or losing their jobs over having wrong beliefs hobbles the flowering of tolerant classical liberal market cosmopolitanism.”…

Social liberals, for their part, should recall that they once vigorously supported RFRAs (as did virtually everybody else) when the laws were understood to be necessary for the protection of peyote-ingesting Native Americans and Sikh haircuts. It’s hard not to agree with Baylor University Professor of Humanities Alan Jacobs, who wrote on Twitter: “When you look at the people who have been protected by religious liberty laws, the liberal opposition to them is a straightforward abandonment of principle in hopes of winning a victory against the ‘repugnant cultural other’.”

[I]f there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.

Furthermore, the evangelical movement is evolving. Many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all.

As a matter of principle, it is simply the case that religious liberty is a value deserving our deepest respect, even in cases where it leads to disagreements as fundamental as the definition of marriage.

And even if RFRA offered no protection to the traditionalist Christian baker and wedding photographer, the law of the land and our culture should. There is something truly paradoxical about the progressive desire to vindicate secularism by compelling objectors to participate in another person’s marriage solemnities. That’s the sort of thing the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay did.

Religious liberty — including the liberty not to participate in another’s private ceremonies — is a liberal value. And liberty of conscience should be protected for all small proprietors, even those who are not religious, or even anti-religious. If a Catholic priest walked into his local print shop and asked the liberal owner to print pamphlets on the sinfulness of artificial birth control, she should be free to decline the job. To label her an anti-Catholic bigot, and to invoke the power of the state to destroy her business, reputation, and livelihood, would be monstrously cruel.

There is a difference between serving a customer and participating in an event that is fundamentally at odds with your religious beliefs.

This was never about getting the cake or the photos or any of the other things people are suing Christians all over the country for.

This is and always has been about putting people out of business for what they believe.

Sure, they’re resorting to boycotts now that a law is being passed to stop their antics, but boycotting is not what they want. They want absolute fealty. Total submission to their point of view codified by law. And total condemnation of Christian values and beliefs.

They warn that “separate but equal” are echoes of the Jim Crowe era. But it the progressives creating a separate but equal dynamic. One group permitted to live their life in public and celebrated. The other group told to hide in the shadows lest their lives be ruined.

[I]t signals how lost this issue is when not even the defenders of the RFRA can even admit the law’s purpose. They seem compelled to pretend this bit about refusing service to gay weddings is just some hypothetical crazy talk.

It’s not. It’s the whole point. And we should not be afraid to say so.

I don’t disagree with those who refuse to serve gay weddings, and I don’t necessarily agree with them, either. I don’t have to. That is the point of tolerance — not that I either disagree or agree with someone’s decision or someone’s self-expression, but that I support his rights to decide for himself, and express himself, as he sees fit…

Because that’s all the gay “rights” activists are doing here — they are forcing people who disagree with their political beliefs to endorse those political beliefs anyway, using the crushing power of the state to compel assent.

What we are seeing here is the enforcement of a new religious code, one which puts “secular” leftist values at the center of religious dogma, and then uses the power of the state to punish heretics, apostates, and blasphemers.

Then, one day, manna descended from heaven in the form of gay marriage. Here it was! The cause we’d longed for all these years had finally arrived! Here was an injustice no one had ever opposed before. Here was a group of marginalized people no one had ever defended. So by embracing this cause, we would instantly be more compassionate, more accepting, more saintly than every human being who had ever lived.

What did it cost us to embrace this cause? Absolutely nothing! It required no moral consistency, no financial sacrifice, no effort. We could sleep with as many people as we wanted, divorce as many people as we wanted, father and then abandon as many children as our hearts desired, and lose no credibility. We could spend our entire adult lives defecating on the institution of marriage and this could not sully our gay marriage halos.

On top of that, these oppressed souls were so gainfully employed that they paid for their own lawyers and lobbyists, so we didn’t need to give them a cent. All we had to do was change our profile pictures on Facebook and beatification was ours. Our prayers were answered. The bright, shiny diamond of righteousness no other generation could claim had been placed into our hands…

We knew the vast majority of you would never have assaulted a gay classmate or kicked your lesbian daughter out on the street. We knew that you have gay friends, gay siblings, gay uncles that you love, cherish, laugh with, and have over for Thanksgiving Dinner while still not approving of that one particular aspect of their lives. We knew that you look at your gay children with the same ratio of love and disapproval as a devout Catholic mother who would give her life for her atheist son yet weeps that his children aren’t baptized. We objectively know you’re not hateful bigots. But we called you that anyway because, in order to keep our righteousness shiny, someone had to play the role of Bull Connor, and you were the best fit we could find.

Are you having a fun Culture War 4.0? It’s certainly been a crazy ride for Indiana state representatives, who appear to be caving to pressure to “clarify” RFRA language after being assaulted for being anti-gay. Across the country, the opportunity for grandstanding has been seized by the sort of unserious people you would expect: the Washington governor and Seattle mayor have banned official travel to Indiana in the wake of the law. Connecticut’s governor displayed his own inability to understand the law in his state by banning travel there as well. And I’m fine with that, because hey, government officials shouldn’t be using taxpayer money to travel all over the place anyway, even if it does mean Washington and Connecticut officials will miss out on the memorial service for Lil’ Sebastian.

The notable thing about Culture War 4.0 is its consistent rejection of tolerance in favor of government enforced morality. Remember your Muad’Dib: “When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.” The peaceful tolerance for those who are different now extends too far, for it encompasses people who do not abide by or fully appreciate gay marriages. The people must be brought to heel, and the new morality enforced by government over their religious objections…

The lesson of Indiana’s RFRA controversy is that if anything, we have underestimated the commitment of the secular left to enforce fealty within a naked public square, where tolerance is no longer a virtue and the power of government must be used to stamp out dissent. For all their complaints over the years about social conservatives’ use of government to enforce morality, the secular left is more eager than ever to engineer the society they seek, no matter the cost.