After Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), many people are calling for a boycott.
The NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis, is “concerned” about the ramifications. The NFL is “studying” the bill. Other groups have already decided it’s time for a all out boycott of the entire state. But they might want to reconsider that response.
While I understand the desire to be passionate about your closely held beliefs (ironic since that’s what the RFRA is designed to protect), a boycott of Indiana will not be enough. In order to be consistent, protestors will have to stretch that boycott far beyond the Hoosier state.
Currently, 19 states, including Indiana, have passed RFRA laws (AL, CT, FL, ID, IN, IL, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NM, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, and VA). Seeing Texas on the list, is the NFL planning on taking the Super Bowl away from Houston in 2017?
In addition, there are 10 other states where courts have interpreted their laws to provide the same type of religious protections (AK, MA, ME, MI, MN, MT, NC, OH, WA, and WI). If they want to be consistent, I guess the NCAA has to be “concerned” about the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis.
So, that only leaves a few states who aren’t under the same type of law (or interpretation of a law) as Indiana. But even then you wouldn’t be safe. There is a federal RFRA (introduced by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993 and passed by a unanimous U.S. House and a near unanimous U.S. Senate, then signed into law by President Bill Clinton).
Here’s the map of states you will have to protest if you want to completely escape all ramifications of any RFRA law. If the state is any shade of blue, you’ll have to boycott it.
And even beyond that, there are other nations that are less accepting than the United States. Countries like Russia, China, South Korea and Japan all score lower on homosexuality acceptance. In particular, those last three seem to be nations that do big business with technology companies like Apple.
But this even miss the entire point of RFRA. It’s not about homosexuality, but rather about First Amendment protections. How could I say that when so much of the coverage is specifically about the way this bill allows discrimination of gay and lesbian individuals?
Here’s what Daniel O. Conkle, a Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor and supporter of gay marriage, said about the Indiana law:
It’s because — despite all the rhetoric — the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.
In essence, he argues that RFRA laws merely allow a person or business to have their day in court if they feel they are being forced to violate their religious beliefs. Nothing about the law mandates the court agree with their claims.
This is echoed by Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett.
Certainly, religious freedom is not absolute. We need general rules to secure public order and the common good. We cannot always accommodate religious objectors — someone who objects on religious grounds to paying taxes or driving safely will and should lose — but if we can, we should.
The act reflects this idea. It does not announce that religious entities or individuals may ignore safety regulations or anti-discrimination ordinances like South Bend’s. It does not say that members of religious minorities will be successful if they seek exemptions, only that they are entitled to a day in court. It requires accommodations and exemptions only when they would not undermine a compelling public interest.
As Gabriel Malor, an attorney in Washington D.C., wrote: “No RFRA has ever been used successfully to defend anti-gay discrimination, not in twenty years of RFRAs nationwide.”
It has, however, been used repeatedly to help religious minorities like a Muslim man who was prevented from growing a beard in an Arkansas prison and a Native American leader and feather dancer who had his eagle feathers seized by the federal government.
Compare that to someone like sports writer Dan Wetzel who believes the perfect solution would be for the government to mandate people place signs in their businesses indicating their religious beliefs.
After all, the best counter to these religious freedom measures has come from an Oklahoma representative named Emily Virgin.
She introduced an amendment in her state that would require a business that will refuses service to certain individuals to “post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.”
Essentially, it tells everyone your intentions, who you are and what you are about. That way the gay couple looking for a florist knows not to go inside … and the rest of the public who think you’re an idiot can go find another florist, too.
Then the religious freedom florist will cling to a dwindling customer base until it goes out of business.
Unfortunately, that type of religious labeling of business has already been tried before in history.
Before everyone is caught up in boycott fever and viewing the law strictly through soundbites and politically-charged rhetoric, keep some perspective in mind.
If you start boycotting, you’ll have to keep it going much further than you anticipated and you won’t be boycotting discrimination—you’ll be boycotting religious freedom.