Hannah Magnuson, Intern
The state of Indiana learned the hard way with its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that while adhering to one’s convictions is admirable, you can be painted as bigoted if you allow others to define you first, before you communicate your intent.
In light of the major Supreme Court ruling in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Indiana’s religious freedom act is coming under even more scrutiny. The legislation, which was approved in late March and went into effect July 1, permits “religious beliefs” as an acceptable reason for business owners to deny customers, raising concerns that citizens will be turned away due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Despite the “fix” amended to the bill ensuring it does not provide grounds for discrimination, the media uproar that the initial bill received was enough to tarnish the state’s reputation. Indiana is now fearing a decline in its tourism as a string of outside businesses have threatened to cease holding their conventions at any of Indianapolis’s popular venues. The heavily publicized protests to the bill resulted in the state’s need to call in a New York public relations firm to patch up its damaged image for $2 million.
Indiana’s challenge is changing morals. In an age of increasing social equality and political correctness, Indiana is seeing a shift in public opinion. From Caitlyn Jenner’s public transformation to Pride parades following SCOTUS’s ruling, the media has propelled an agenda of national change.
Indiana politicians defended RFRA by saying its intent is to promote religious freedom rather than to limit anyone’s rights. This freedom of expression aspect of the bill should have been emphasized to the public from the beginning. Instead, reports of the legislation have fixated on the possibility of denial and alienation that customers could face.
The public and federal government have become more and more willing to allow individuals to define and perform their own identities, a shift that Indiana’s government could have capitalized on rather than jeopardized. Focusing on the liberties the bill bestows upon business-owners would have promoted the religious freedom bill in cohesion with attitudes instead of in opposition to them.