An amusing struggle as the press tries to explain why RFRA is different from all those other laws

While it’s certainly a serious topic which merits the debate going on around the country, there has been one exceptionally funny aspect to the entire RFRA discussion this week. It took some prodding from conservative outlets, but the media has at long last begun to grudgingly admit that virtually identical laws are on the books in nearly two dozen other states and on the federal level, many bearing the signatures of Democrats. This has left liberal opponents sputtering and side stepping in their attempts to say, well yeah, but this is way worse because… Republicans!


Given a bit of time, though, the more erudite among them will come up with some better ways to parse it. One such effort is brought to us by Erick Eckholm at the Gray Lady. See if you can pick out the double standard at play. It begins with the opening salvo in the first sentence.

When the federal government adopted a religious protection act in 1993, same-sex marriage was not on the horizon.

While there is more to dig into, you could almost stop right there. So, Mr. Eckholm, you’re saying that the law which protected the religious liberty of some individuals was a good thing in 1992, but once we began debating the almost entirely unrelated matter of gay marriage, it’s no longer a good idea? I see.

Let’s continue. I’ll need to add a bit of emphasis into this part.

An informal coalition of liberals and conservatives endorsed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it seemed to protect members of vulnerable religious minorities from punishment for the exercise of their beliefs. The federal legislation was set off by a case involving Native Americans who were fired and denied unemployment benefits because they took part in ceremonies with peyote, an illegal drug.

Twenty states, including Indiana last week, have since passed their own versions of religious freedom laws.

But over time, court decisions and conservative legal initiatives started to change the meaning of those laws, according to liberal activists. The state laws were not used to protect minorities, these critics say, but to allow some religious groups to undermine the rights of women, gays and lesbians or other groups.


This is what’s at the heart of it. Such laws are only of benefit to society if they are used to protect an oppressed minority. Never mind that we’re talking about the constitutionally mandated freedom of religion for all people. The legislation can suddenly become poisonous if it fails to be reserved for a small subset of people. Or, perhaps I could rephrase it for you.

Hey! When we passed this thing you never said it was going to be used to protect Christians!!

I’ve been watching this unfold since yesterday morning on several cable channels and in numerous newspaper articles. And honestly, none of them get any better than the item above in terms of making any sort of sense. In a rather sad fashion, they are almost making my point for me. Religious liberty is great unless and until it becomes inconvenient for a politically popular demographic and/or benefits the majority in any way.

For a bit more on the coverage of this story, allow me to point you to this article at Rare by John-Henry Westen. It avoids the inherent hypocrisy of the preceding argument and gets to the root of why religious liberty is actually important to everyone… majority, minority or unaffiliated.

According to critics, Pence’s signature is the equivalent of state-supported discrimination against gays.

However, it is same-sex activists who have engaged in state-sponsored discrimination. In Colorado, Vermont, California, and many other states, Christian business owners who serve gay customers but do not wish to participate in same-sex ceremonies are being forced out of their livelihoods. Bakers, photographers, printers, wedding planners, and bed and breakfast owners have been subjected to government-sponsored prejudice because of their religious beliefs.

It is therefore hypocritical for gay activists to target Indiana with such heated rhetoric.

But perhaps more importantly, their accusations are based on a misunderstanding of both religious liberty and the RFRA itself.


That’s a refreshing way to look at the RFRA, isn’t it? Perhaps we can get some of the cable news spokesmodels to give it a read.

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