American Religious Freedom is a Shield, Not a Sword
Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not the first Republican to use the First Amendment as a weapon to deny equal rights for some Americans. And Pence won't be the last conservative caught in the blowback from civil rights groups, corporate leaders and even some Christian churches. That's because as marriage equality continues to win in the courts of law and public opinion, conservatives are turning the First Amendment's freedom of religion protections into a cudgel to beat back others' speech and behavior they find offensive.
Governor Pence signed Indiana's new Religious Freedom's Restoration Act not only "because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith," but because "many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action." Pence has plenty of company among the 2016 Republican White House hopefuls. While Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has warned, "Religious liberty has never been more under attack," his Louisiana rival Bobby Jindal declared, "Make no mistake," Jindal said, "The war over religious liberty is the war over free speech and without the first there is no such thing as the second." But it was front-runner Jeb Bush who gave the game away in expressing his opinion about same-sex marriage:
"I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue - including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."
Unfortunately, Bush's posture, which one Republican strategist described as "a new way to talk to about same-sex marriage," is little different than the religious liberty justifications segregationists used to defend Jim Crow and its bans on interracial marriage. Just as important, the new wave of GOP legislation to enable discrimination against LGBT Americans is a perversion of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Ironically, the federal RFRA law was the congressional response to a ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia in the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith.
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