Having been born in Rhode Island, perhaps I am biased against those whom I about to write. Rhode Island was founded as a colony in 1636, as Providence Plantations, by Roger Williams, a theologian, separatist, abolitionist, proponent of religious freedom and strong believer in “a hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”
This past week, Indiana governor, Mike Pence, signed SB 101, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Despite its innocuous sounding name, it has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination. According to Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, “The timing of this legislation is important to understanding its intent: The bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana.”
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, while it applied to all religions, was actually targeted to Native Americans who were felt to be unfairly burdened by government projects on their land. Essentially, this Act was designed to extend the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion to Native Americans following erosion of its use in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The bill was introduced by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and passed unanimously by the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate before being signed by President Clinton. Ah, those were the days of bipartisanship.
Since that time, nineteen states have passed their own version of the RFRA, first because a federal lawsuit struck down part of the act in 1997, forcing states to augment the federal legislation but recently as a way for Christian fundamentalists to sandbag against the tide of same-sex marriage laws sweeping the country (as in Indiana). Eight states currently have such legislation working its way through the legislative process (AR, GA, HI, MI, MT, NC, NV, and TX). And this legislation does not count the seven states who have introduced legislation outright banning same-sex marriage (AL, AR, MO, NC, OK, SC, and TX).
Eight states have passed legislation banning sharia law. In fact, 34 states have considered such legislation in the past 5 years even though such laws have been found to be unconstitutional and there has never been any indication that any such laws have been considered anywhere at any time by any state. It is simply more fear-mongering and discrimination couched as religious freedom.
What happened to lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life)? Perhaps we should spend a little less time with orthodoxy and a little more time with orthopraxy.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Orwell would be proud. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Perhaps with the appropriate branding, sponsorship, and uniforms we could add Pogrom is Sport. Hunger Games, anyone?