The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015, recently passed and signed into law in the state of Indiana would essentially protect a person with religious beliefs, such as a Christian, from being forced to participate in events that are contrary to his or her religious beliefs. Several groups, including reason.com, have offered arguments supporting the repeal of this law. I believe that these are unfounded, and I will tell you why.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015 is not the first bill of its type to pass in the United States. In 1993, then-president Bill Clinton signed a similar bill into law. The Indiana bill is similar to this law. Several other states also have laws similar to the one in Indiana.
Contrary to popular belief, this law says nothing about sexual orientation. It does not allow the discrimination against someone who is gay. Rather, the law is intended to protect the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This was part of the original Bill of Rights and guarantees that a person's religious rights will not be violated.
Since I am not a legal scholar, I will not debate on a legal level. However, I would like to look at some objections from a logical perspective. Reason.com recently posted an article and lists several court cases that may relate to this issue. However, this article(1) says very little to nothing about the other bills that have passed into law (mentioned above). A further look at the article reveals a bias that immediately leaves me suspicious that the author is not pushing an agenda. However, I think it is important that we tackle these objections head-on. Since I do not have time to bring up every objection mentioned by every major website or news outlet, I would like to look at only a few and trust that others will catch the ones that I miss.
The Reason.com article states that "In Employment Division v. Smith, a small group of Native Americans who had been fired from their jobs because drug tests revealed their use of peyote made applications for unemployment compensation, which the State of Oregon denied. They appealed and claimed that their use of peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, could not be the basis for firing them from their jobs because it was a sacrament in their religion. The court ruled that the adherents to this religion had the same obligation to obey the laws that prohibit the use of peyote as all persons do." It should be pointed out that there is a difference between participating in an already illegal event because your religion demands it and refraining from participating in an event because your religion prohibits it. The first is the case in "Employment Division v. Smith", the second is the case here.
It should be pointed out here that this bill is not discriminatory against any group based on sexual orientation. In fact, the bill does not mention sexual orientation at all. The bill is an attempt to defend the religious rights of the people of Indiana.
The article goes on to state that the 1993 law signed into law by Bill Clinton allows for a "my religion made me do it" defense. This, however, is a straw man argument(2). Once again, we are not talking about Christians participating in an illegal activity, such as the use of illegal drugs, we are talking about Christians having the right to refrain from participating in events that violate that which is sacred to them. If this law is repealed, it would essentially allow for a "my sexual orientation made me do it" argument that would allow for a violation of the religious rights of the citizens of the state of Indiana. After all, if I ask Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, or Richard Dawkins to speak on a panel discussion on the existence of God at a Christian school and I am refused, what can I do? The answer is nothing, even if the real reason for the denial is because the school was a Christian school. Someone will always say that these people were too busy, it was too difficult to make it, etc. Here, the real excuse would be that their "belief that God does not exist made them do it", but another excuse is given. In this hypothetical case, the real reason for the denial is because the school is a Christian school, but it is easy to see that a case like this would go nowhere in a court of law. I would simply be told to find a different speaker.
In the same way, I cannot go to a Muslim caterer and ask him to cater an event and make pork the main dish. I cannot cry, "Discrimination!" if he refuses. It violates his religious beliefs, and he has the right to refuse to participate in the event if it violates his religious beliefs. I will simply find a different caterer, and he will not get my business. I cannot ask a Jewish caterer to serve frog legs or shellfish at an event, because it violates the dietary restrictions of Judaism. A devout Jew would have every right to decline to participate in an event where these foods are served, as would the Jewish caterer. The list goes on and on.
Forcing Christians to violate their religious beliefs by forcing them to participate in events that run contrary to their religious beliefs, then, is comparable to the logical fallacy of "special pleading"(3).
Near the end of the article, the author writes, "Goldwater paraphrased Thomas Jefferson, who argued that the only moral commercial transaction is one truly voluntary on the part of the buyer and the seller." What the author has against voluntary transactions between two people perplexes me. The author mentions that Senator Goldwater used this as an argument against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, yet it is fallacious to think that just because someone used something in the wrong way means that it is bad. For example, in World War II, the Nazis used both airplanes and guns for evil causes, but this doesn't mean that airplanes or guns are inherently bad in themselves. Rather, a transaction based on a mutual agreement between buyer and seller is a rather fair and civilized way to handle business. If the author of this article is correct, I agree that Senator Goldwater used this as an argument for the wrong purposes(4), but this doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a mutual agreement between buyer and seller in every transaction. In fact, this is essentially what happens when I go to Arby's to get a meal. When I pay for the food at the register, Arby's and I essentially enter into an agreement that:
1) I will pay them the amount they request.
2) They will provide me with the food that I paid for and in the manner that it is supposed to be prepared.
It appears to me that the entire push against this bill is not to protect the rights of the LGBT community. It seems to me that taking away this bill would force Christians to choose to violate their religious beliefs or be denied the right to own a business. I see no third option.
1) The article can be read at: http://reason.com/archives/2015/04/02/indiana-and-the-constitution.
2) In logic, a straw man argument occurs whenever a person misconstrues his or her opponent's position in order to attack the position. Instead of attacking the opponent's original argument, the person is essentially attacking an argument of his or her own creation.
3) In logic, special pleading occurs when the rules are not applied equally to both sides of an argument. For example, someone who dismisses the existence of Jesus because Jesus did not write anything, but accepts the existence of Socrates, who also did not write anything, is engaging in "special pleading" for his or her position.
4.) I do not know about Senator Goldwater's arguments. The only information I have is that which is provided by the author of the reason.com article cited above.