by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
Since last week, every time I got ready to write about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) something happened; the weekend rally, the Governor’s appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the creation of a Cannabis Church in Indiana, you name it. So when the dust settled this afternoon, I finally figured out what to write; offer some advice to my Republican friends on how to fix this disaster.
Now I know there are quite of few of them who don’t think they did anything wrong. I heard it all weekend, RFRA is about religious freedom, not discrimination. It’s in effect in nearly 30 other states in one form or another, even though they didn’t do it following on the heels of two big fights over same-sex marriage. The media (more national and social) has blown this all out of proportion, etc. etc. I get it guys. I really do. I honestly don’t think (despite what some RFRA supporters secretly wish) RFRA is a vehicle for discrimination. It simply outlines a test for when government rules and religious liberty clash. I really do get it. And guess what, none of that matters. It doesn’t. Stop shaking your head, it doesn’t matter. Listen to me, it doesn’t matter.
There’s an old saying in politics, it ain’t what it is, it’s what it looks like. Or to put it another way, when your wife is mad at you for something she thinks you did or forgot to do, whether you did or didn’t do it doesn’t matter. She’s mad and you need to fix it. It’s just that simple. RFRA pretty much flew under the radar until it passed the House and was signed by the Governor. That’s when social media exploded, the allegations of discrimination started flying and most people started paying attention.
Is that unfair? Yup! Now man up and deal with it. I know some of you don’t want to, but look at it this way.
When major companies call for boycotts of Indiana, nearly 3,000 people show up at the Statehouse on a chilly Saturday afternoon to protest and Governor Pence has to go on national TV to try to explain the law doesn’t allow for discrimination but won’t clearly state that he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, you have a problem. If this were 2016, we would be talking a crisis of “Richard Mourdock” proportion.
Luckily, this can be fixed. And quite simply, too. I know a lot of Republicans aren’t quite ready to add sexual orientation as a protected class here in Indiana, although I would argue you should. But the next best thing is a simple sentence in the code that says RFRA cannot be used as a defense against a state, federal or local anti-discrimination law. You do that and you go a long way to mitigating your problem. And since many of you have already stated RFRA doesn’t promote discrimination, you have nothing to lose by writing that down.
You had one chance to do this during the amendment process and took a pass. I think this might be God’s way of giving you guys a second chance to avoid political Armageddon when Judgment Day gets here next year. You call it Election Day.
Now I know this may not make some people happy and some of you want to stand on principle. Well, here’s another principle to think about. Think about all the sales tax revenue you will lose if companies and tourism really do start leaving Indiana. Who pays for your schools? Who pays for your services? Who pays for the bonds on Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center?
Yeah, ponder that. And then think long and hard about how you got here and never do it again. And by the way, it doesn’t matter whether you like it. That’s immaterial. We’re talking Indiana’s fiscal health here. That’s why it doesn’t matter what the law actually says, it’s what people think it means.
Now go fix it.
Abdul-Hakim is the Editor and Publisher of Indy Politics. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.