Indiana makes NH look progressive

To New Hampshire’s credit, the bill that was signed into law last week in Indiana that has caused such an uproar has no counterpart awaiting passage in the Granite State.

Indiana passed a law – signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence – that critics say would allow people to discriminate against same-sex couples under the guise of religious freedom.

The idea behind the law was to provide protections for people and businesses that have legitimate religious objections so they wouldn’t have to perform acts that conflict with their religious beliefs. It says the state can’t impose its will in violation of a person’s religion unless it can show a compelling state interest in doing so.

Opponents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim it would give state protection for people to cite religious grounds as a reason to deny service to people based on sexual orientation. The oft-cited example is that of a baker refusing to fill a cake order for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration because their sexual orientation conflicts with the baker’s religious beliefs.

Thousands showed up at the Indiana Statehouse on Saturday to demonstrate against the law’s passage, and Pence canceled his scheduled public appearances on Monday and Tuesday rather than face the wrath of even more demonstrators.

Pence claims opposition to the RFRA is based on “a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding.”

Yet it’s telling that, when given a half dozen chances on ABC’s “This Week” to say unequivocally that the law would not allow businesses to refuse service to gays, Pence declined to do so. “This isn’t about disputes between individuals,” he said.

It is if you’re on the receiving end of a refusal and are part of an unprotected class.

Clearly, every state has an interest in protecting its resident’s religious freedoms, just as states have an interest in making sure that residents – all of them – are not discriminated against.

In defending the law, Pence correctly points out that 19 other states and the federal government have passed similar religious freedom laws.

True, but missing from the Indiana legal landscape is a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Pence stated flat-out that he had no interest in seeing such a law passed. “That’s not on my agenda,” the governor said.

But lawmakers in the Hoosier State are having serious second thoughts about the wisdom of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act after getting serious pushback from a range of high-profile sources.

Connecticut’s governor has banned state-funded travel to Indiana, Angie’s List – the popular consumer reporting group – canceled its expansion plans in Indianapolis because of the law. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and holding its Final Four in that city this weekend, also raised concerns about the law, which goes into effect on July 1.

Even Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who urged Pence not to sign the bill, said the law threatens to undermine business in his city. He urged the legislature to repeal the law, or amend it to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took aim at religious freedom bills in a column in the Washington Post. “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear,” Cook said. “They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”

The uproar in Indiana will probably put an end to talk about Mike Pence as a possible presidential candidate – he made a test-the-waters visit to New Hampshire in the fall – but more importantly, it should serve as a lesson to those who favor greater religious protections.

The way to achieve it is not by discriminating against others.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with religious history should know that.