Stand your ground on RFRA, Mike Pence

The familiar saturation coverage that characterizes the media’s approach to Republican scandals, real or invented, is being directed against the state of Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence, and the state’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

The law is not so dissimilar from the 19 other state-level RFRA laws, or the federal version crafted by Democrats and signed into law by a Democrat in 1993, that it merits this excessive coverage. What’s more, the looming threat of legally sanctioned discrimination against Indiana’s LGBT residents is entirely potential. When precedent is on your side, argue precedent. When it isn’t, argue the “slippery slope,” and the press has become consumed with worry over the slope down which they imagine the Hoosier State is sliding.

But this is a spurious argument. None of the overwrought commentators, liberal business leaders, or activists enraged over Indiana’s religious freedom law are arguing that all RFRA laws should be repealed. Nor are they insisting that Indiana should also pass the supplemental anti-discrimination laws that liberal governor’s claim have prevented their state’s RFRA laws from being used as vehicles to permit discrimination. No, the aim here is clear: Force Pence to surrender. Force his state to back down, and repeal this law. Compel deference to the new religion of diversity. The left’s aim is to carve out a victory here, either by forcing Indiana to cave under pressure or to cast Republicans who refuse to budge as bigots.

Of course, many on the left are genuinely disturbed by the prospect that this law will lead to abuse, but that potential must be weighed against real victims whose religious sensibilities have been violated. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board observed, the notion that a raft of prejudiced Indiana bakers and florists are ready to put “straights only signs” on their doors – a dystopian vision conjured up by The Huffington Post – is a flight of paranoid fancy.

“In all these states for two decades, no court we’re aware of has granted such a religious accommodation to an antidiscrimination law,” The Journal noted of the 20 states with RFRA laws on the books. “Restaurants and hotels that refused to host gay marriage parties would have a particularly high burden in overcoming public accommodation laws.” The Journal attributes this condition to both the fact that America is becoming more tolerant of gays, lesbians, and transgendered Americans, but also because of the compelling interest the state has in enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

Liberal activists’ unfounded fears of future persecution must be placed in context, and that context is the ongoing violation of the liberties of religious minorities in the United States, many of whom have been aided by RFRA laws. At the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway identified a number of individuals who have RFRAs to thank for safeguarding their religious sensibilities. A handful of these former victims included a Lipan Apache religious leader who nearly had his sacred feathers confiscated, a Sikh who lost her job after being reprimanded for carrying a ceremonial blade, and a Santeria priest sued over animal sacrifice. For the left, which cannot comprehend that members of the dominant Christian faith in America could ever be substantially burdened let alone oppressed, RFRA’s protections for minorities should prove a compelling enough argument for the law’s opponents.

Frustratingly for liberals, RFRA also protects Christians, and the federal version of RFRA just won a sweeping victory in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Court ruled this summer that closely held corporations should not be compelled by the federal government to violate the owner’s religious principles by having to provide their employees with no-cost access to certain contraceptives. No one is preventing those Hobby Lobby employees who want to use a $50 morning after pill from purchasing it, but now they have to pay for it out of pocket. If the Court had ruled in favor of the government, the religious convictions of Hobby Lobby’s proprietors would have been violated continually and repeatedly so long as that business remained in operation.

The Republicans are often criticized by many, including myself, for picking the wrong battles, refusing to fight the fights that matter, and choosing the wrong hills upon which to die. Some suspect that the media’s cacophonous chorus of like-thinking conventional wisdom peddlers, who all drone in unison about the GOP’s inability to appeal to minorities, have a point here when they note that this law creates a problem for the Republican Party where it didn’t previously exist. Indeed, CNN’s reporters have determined that Indiana’s law has exposed an “existential” dilemma for the GOP in which it must balance the concerns of social conservatives against the minority members of the electorate to which the party must appeal.

Some argue that the Republican Party can again win the White House in 2016 by merely expanding the parameters of Mitt Romney’s already predominantly white coalition of voters. Maybe, but if they do that, it will be the last presidential cycle in which such an approach is feasible. I’ve argued that the GOP needs to expand its appeal and broaden the coalition if it is to remain a viable party. There is, however, precious little evidence to suggest that campaigns centered on identity politics have much of an effect on presidential vote totals.

Take the 2012 race, for example. Then, the president sought to divide America along lines based on race, class, age, and gender, and the media predictably bought into every fleeting story involving the GOP’s “war on X.” But those liberal campaigns did not have much of a perceptible impact on total votes. Michael Medved elaborated in a piece for The Journal:

True enough, Mr. Obama won the overall female vote by 11 points in 2012—55% to 44%—but that’s hardly remarkable for a Democratic presidential candidate. Al Gore fared the same in 2000, prevailing among women by an identical 11-point advantage. Mr. Obama did better with women in 2008, beating John McCain by 56% to 43%. He enjoyed that advantage even though his first campaign never emphasized “women’s issues” and despite the presence of a woman—Sarah Palin—on the Republican ticket.

A closer look at the numbers reveals that Mr. Obama’s success with the ladies actually stemmed from his well-known appeal to minority voters. In 2012, 72% of all women voters identified themselves as “white.” This subset preferred Mitt Romney by a crushing 14-point advantage, 56% to 42%. Though Democrats ratcheted up the women’s rhetoric in the run-up to Election Day, the party did poorly among the white women it sought to influence: The Republican advantage in this crucial segment of the electorate doubled to 14 points in 2012 from seven points in 2008. In the race against Mr. Romney, Obama carried the overall female vote—and with it the election—based solely on his success with the 28% of women voters who identified as nonwhite. He carried 76% of Latina women and a startling 96% of black women.

The same discrepancy exists when considering marital status. In 2012, nearly 60% of female voters were married, and they preferred Mr. Romney by six points, 53% to 46%. Black and Latina women, on the other hand, are disproportionately represented among unmarried female voters, and they favored Mr. Obama by more than 2-to-1, 67% to 31%.

A similar pattern emerges among young voters, suggesting the president’s popularity among millennials also came from racial minorities, not any special resonance with young people. While nonwhites compose 28% of the electorate-at-large, they make up 42% of voters ages 18-29. Mr. Obama won these young voters handily—60% to 37%. He lost young white voters by seven points, 51% to 44%.

In the face of a thinly-veiled media campaign aimed at bucking up a Democratic Party that hasn’t had a good week since November of last year, Gov. Mike Pence should stand his ground. If anything, he should note that those liberal states with RFRA’s on the books have a point, and commit to augmenting his state’s law in the same way that Connecticut’s robust religious freedom law has been supplemented. Indiana is standing up to real discrimination while the left howls about potential abuses. On balance, Pence is on the right side of the argument. As hills go, standing in defense of the religious liberties of all Americans is a pretty good one.