Religious freedom laws provide for liberty, not bigotry

I eat and breathe at the intersection of politics and faith. I have a special appreciation for that line by Sting, who said, "Poets, priests and politicians, have words to thank for their positions." It's what I do day in, day out. And recently, it seems like everyone's on board.

As you might have read, Indiana is in the news. Boy, is it in the news. Gov. Mike Pence has made the Hoosier state more prominent than Larry Bird and John Cougar combined. What did he do?

He signed a bill passed by the Legislature known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law similar to one passed by the U.S. Congress, signed by President Bill Clinton and on the books in 20 other states. RFRAs were implemented basically to provide a referee when a government mandate comes up against the religious beliefs of an American.

RFRAs require that before someone's religious freedom can be overridden, government has to demonstrate a compelling and legitimate interest in doing so and that it's using the least restrictive means possible.

Those who've gone apoplectic calling the Indiana RFRA an "anti-gay" weapon businesses will use to turn away customers are missing some very basic points. RFRAs are in place (did I mention the U.S. Congress and 20 states) as shields -- not swords. They cannot be used affirmatively to deprive others of the protections of law. In fact, in 22 years, no RFRA has ever been used successfully to defend anti-gay discrimination.

So what's really going on?

The LGBTQ community successfully convinced enough judges that the rights of individuals holding natural views on marriage should be trumped by those with evolving morals and standards. Thus, you have wedding vendors like photographers, bakers and florists actually being forced out of business if they don't partake in same-sex wedding ceremonies.


In nearly all the cases I'm familiar with, these vendors had no problems whatsoever serving gay customers. They did it all the time. They simply weren't comfortable participating in a wedding ceremony that didn't actually have a bride and groom. In a case in Oregon, the labor commissioner said his goal was to "rehabilitate" the baker -- not close her doors. If you're cozy with that kind of government language, you need to catch up on some history.

In another real-life case, a Christian graduate student is literally kicked out of her counseling degree program at Eastern Michigan University because she was reluctant to provide relationship counseling to a gay client. Apparently in today's university setting, you either support the LGBTQ movement or you get out of the counseling vocation. This is surreal.

How about this example opponents of RFRAs need to answer. If you are an adoption attorney with a belief that children inherently need a mother and a father, a thought that used to not be so divisive, should you be required by law to place a child in a household led by a lesbian or gay couple? Mind you, most adoption attorneys today would have no problem doing so. This is about the attorney whose convictions tell her she can't. Should she be forced to find employment elsewhere?

Can you imagine the Westboro Baptist Church, the despicably anti-Christ-like group in their disdain for homosexuals, using the full force of government to require a gay-owned printing shop to make their signs? How about the head of a local Ku Klux Klan using the attorney general to close down a tuxedo shop owned by an African-American family for refusing to do the Klan head's wedding?

Everyone needs to breathe deeply. We live in a pluralistic society, and differing views are what make our cultural fabric so rich and textured. Just because hyperbolic voices scream that RFRAs are about making gays and lesbians drink from separate water fountains, sit on different parts of the bus and allow restaurants to post "No Gays Allowed" sign in their windows doesn't make it so.

Alternative lifestyles are embraced in our world today more than at any other time in history. That is simple, basic truth.

What we're seeing today is something entirely different. Some, not all, in activist circles essentially want to "rehabilitate" the remaining parts of society who don't "evolve" on fundamental truths about human sexuality. Let's all say it together -- "It's OK to disagree. It's okay for some people to be uncomfortable with others."

If you really want everyone to think and feel the same in a country that has E Pluribus Unum as its motto, you risk sounding a bit like that same song by Sting -- de do do do de da da da.

Jim Minnery is president of Alaska Family Action, a public policy and advocacy group.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Jim Minnery

Jim Minnery is president and founder of Alaska Family Action, statewide, pro-family public policy organization that exists to provide a voice on social and cultural issues impacting Alaskan families.