This op-ed was originally featured as an alumni point-counter point section focused on the RFRA debate in the Anderson University campus newspaper, The Andersonian.
Before lawmakers passed and Governor Mike Pence signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), most people probably hadn’t heard about the bill. And the name sounded innocent enough—who doesn’t support religious freedom? But after two weeks of bruising national media attention, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Indiana who hasn’t heard of RFRA.
How did a bill that legislators insisted was a harmless way to protect Hoosiers’ religious liberty cause so much concern when people took a closer look? There are a lot of reasons. But one is that some of the things RFRA supporters said were simply not true.
They said the language was the same as federal law and what 20 other states had adopted. In reality, the language is significantly different from the federal version and different than many of those states.
They ignored the fact that Indiana does not have a statewide non-discrimination law protecting LGBT citizens just as race and gender are protected. In fact, in most of Indiana, I could walk into a restaurant and be told to leave because I am gay. And while some cities have taken action to add protections at the local level, legal scholars believed that RFRA could invalidate those laws.
They used what can only be described as scare tactics to justify its passage, saying pastors would be required to perform same-sex marriages without RFRA, which is untrue. As many of you know, it is routine for pastors to refuse to conduct a ceremony for couples outside of church membership, denomination or even those not participating in couples counseling with the pastor.
As the daughter of an ordained minister, I know the value of religious freedom. It’s a sacred principle that defines us as Americans, which is why our founding fathers enshrined it in our state and federal constitution. But the idea that RFRA is necessary for me to have religious freedom makes no sense. I’ve had religious freedom my entire life without RFRA.
The fallout from RFRA was devastating. The economic damage estimates have been as high as $1 billion. And the “fix” for RFRA still does not address the reality that in most places in our state, LGBT Hoosiers are still not protected from discrimination. But it also presents us with an opportunity.
As Hoosiers seeking to rebuild our reputation, we should ensure that all are truly welcome everywhere in our state and pass a statewide non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
And as Christians, we should remember how Jesus addressed similar issues. Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Being compassionate to those with whom we disagree. And, above all, remembering to treat all we encounter the way Jesus would treat them and the way we would treat Him.
Megan is a veteran in Republican politics, having worked at every level of campaign over the last dozen years. In 2014, Megan ran Freedom Indiana’s effort to defeat a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions and currently owns and operates FrontRunner Strategies, an issue advocacy and political consulting firm. Megan graduated from AU with a degree in Political Science in 2004.