Jindal: We need to defend religious liberty with public policy

Dude, he’s running. While other Republicans struggle to deal with the media’s insistence on making RSVP answers to hypothetical wedding invitations a litmus test for the presidency, Bobby Jindal has decided to double down on support for protecting religious scruples in the marketplace. In an essay for the New York Times, which put a deceptive headline on the column, Jindal explains the necessity of a new bill in Louisiana that would extend beyond RFRA to limit court infringement on religious expression through public accommodation laws:

In 2010, Louisiana adopted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. However, given the changing positions of politicians, judges and the public in favor of same-sex marriage, along with the potential for discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses that comes with these shifts, I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.

The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.

Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me. As a nation we would not compel a priest, minister or rabbi to violate his conscience and perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. But a great many Americans who are not members of the clergy feel just as called to live their faith through their businesses. That’s why we should ensure that musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion on deeply held religious convictions.

The bill does not, as opponents assert, create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians. The bill does not change anything as it relates to the law in terms of discrimination suits between private parties. It merely makes our constitutional freedom so well defined that no judge can miss it.

The New York Times headline for the essay is “Bobby Jindal: I’m Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage.” In the essay, Jindal does write that his opinion on the definition of marriage hasn’t changed, and that it remains “between one man and one woman,” as was the consensus for more than two centuries in American law. But he then goes on to argue that this isn’t the point of the law, explicitly noting that we need to protect constitutional freedoms for those who dissent:

I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion.

A pluralistic and diverse society like ours can exist only if we all tolerate people who disagree with us. That’s why religious freedom laws matter — and why it is critical for conservatives and business leaders to unite in this debate.

In other words, the point here isn’t Jindal’s opposition to same-sex marriage, which hasn’t changed, or any attempts to block it if the Supreme Court rules that states must adopt it on equal-protection grounds under the 14th Amendment. It’s about how to deal with those who have legitimate objections to participating in same-sex weddings and restraining government from forcing them out of business for making that choice. The NYT’s headline misses the point of Jindal’s essay, and it seems like a deliberate choice.

The Daily Signal covered the emergence of the Marriage and Conscience Act last week:

H.B. 707 would prevent the government from discriminating against people because they believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and would prohibit the government from using its heavy hand to condition tax treatment, contracts and other benefits on a person’s acceptance of the “acceptable” view in support of same-sex marriage.

H.B. 707 would also help protect those with religious objections to being forced by the government to play a part in same-sex marriage ceremonies under threat of fines and imprisonment.

Moreover, it should serve as a danger sign to us as a country which has always prided itself on protecting the civil liberties of the minority. If we can’t even protect unpopular views in law, and instead our people are amassing in mob fashion more reminiscent of scenes in Pakistan than the United States, we all need to seriously take stock of where we are when it comes to protecting the individual civil rights of all.

H.B. 707 would protect the civil liberties of the minority when they are being marginalized simply because they believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This bill would simply protect people from the heavy hand of intrusive government should it attempt to coerce them to modify their beliefs regarding the institution of marriage.

We’ll see how HB707 fares in Louisiana. The experience in Indiana proved that religious expression clearly needs more protection, not less, in the US today. Jindal’s support of MCA will definitely attract the attention of social conservatives and expand his reach within the GOP base, adding to his already established pitch to reform conservatives on the basis of his success in education and his expertise on health-care reform issues. Expect to hear a lot more about this if — more like when — Jindal tosses his hat into the ring.