Indiana is just the beginning

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When the U.S. Supreme Court returned its decision in the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case, I argued the set stage would be of little benefit to women or religion. I’m saddened to see that in Indiana, my predictions, largely drawn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, have come to fruition.

“Religious organizations exist,” she wrote, “to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.” In contrast, businesses and corporations exist to create profits, and do not draw the workers or customers who sustain them from any singular religious community.

I wrote that if the “ruling could somehow be limited only to medications or contraception, it would be bad enough, but there are much broader implications at stake.”

Humans pray. Humans gather with like-minded others to express their faith. Humans cry. Humans laugh. Humans refer to a singular interest in acquiring wealth as greed.

Corporations and businesses do not pray or attend houses of worship. The emotions expressed by corporations as part of advertising or outreach campaigns are manufactured to further their singular interest in acquiring wealth.

Demonstrators gathered at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28 to protest a controversial bill signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying it would promote discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Demonstrators gathered at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28 to protest a controversial bill signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying it would promote discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Nate Chute/Reuters)

Despite the good intentions behind many of the earlier Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to protect humans of faith from government overreach, subsequent federal court decisions have enabled distasteful consequences. The playing field today has little to do with an overwhelming want to protect religious ceremony or ritual from prohibitive law, which was the outcry that led to the federal RFRA — another Supreme Court case in which the firing of American Indians who had ingested a hallucinogen was upheld, despite the event taking place as part of a religious ceremony. In that majority decision Justice Antonin Scalia argued the firing was warranted because the rules were “neutral (and) generally applicable,” prompting humans to question if their faith rituals could also be prohibited by law. Catholics, in particular, needed only to look to prohibition for an example of a neutral and generally applicable law that could be used to prevent their use of wine.

The federal law compelled the courts to once again consider burdens on individual religious liberties unlawful unless the government could show the burden necessary to achieve a compelling interest that was employed in the least restrictive means.

The RFRAs passed by states came in response to a separate federal decision that the existing law applied only to the federal government. Some states wanted to ensure that humans could participate in religious rituals and expressions without local government interference. But throughout the state-level debates before the Hobby Lobby decision, focus remained on protecting human religious expression from government overreach.

While the Indiana and (failed) Arkansas laws kept this standard, they also expanded it by extending religious liberty protections to corporations and businesses.

I’ve little doubt, given the outrage, that the current fiasco in Indiana will be resolved. I’ve also little doubt, given the compounding federal decisions bestowing uniquely human rights on businesses, that such battles are only beginning.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on April 4, 2015. Photo credit: Nate Chute/Reuters