Indiana is Protecting Zealotry
Religious freedom in the United States is protected by the Constitution. It’s strange to have to state the obvious, but the Indiana legislature and Governor Mike Pence seem to need a refresher on basic civics. On 26 March, Pence signed SB 101 into law, a bill which supposedly protects religious freedom, though in this instance, that freedom largely applies to business owners who want the right to refuse service to customers they disapprove of. As with the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, the state of Indiana is giving businesses the same rights as people. Mitt Romney would be so proud of what he hath wrought.
The first amendment makes it clear that we are free to practice religion without government interference. The Constitution also establishes the separation of church and state so that the laws we live by our never guided by religious zeal. It was quite a sight, then, to see a picture of Governor Pence signing SB 101 while surrounded by various religious figures. His flagrant disregard for the separation of church and state was proudly posted to Twitter and why not? He is nothing, if not committed to this course of action.
Of course, Indiana is not alone in drafting such legislation. There are 19 other states with similar laws on the books. The ongoing fight for marriage equality and feminism are probably to blame. There are pesky people all across the country simply wanting the freedom to live their lives; they clearly must be stopped.
But let’s talk about what’s really going on here. Indiana is not protecting religious freedom. They are protecting a very specific brand of zealotry. They are protecting bigotry. Though they won’t admit it, SB 101 is a knee jerk response to marriage equality becoming law in Indiana in late 2014. In some ways, the passage of this law offers comfort. Small-minded people are more plainly revealing themselves for who and what they are.
The law sets a dangerous precedent, though. There are, for example, LGBT people who want to spend their money in Indiana, and some Indiana business owners don’t want that dirty queer money. Their warped faith guides them in this way and so be it. This bill will also allow businesses to deny women certain forms of contraception if the owners disapprove. The slope for such legislation is desperately slippery. As always, “religious freedom,” targets very specific groups of people—the groups those in power want to control or eradicate.
I live in Indiana and teach at Purdue University, a wonderful school with some of the brightest students I have ever had the privilege of working with. My colleagues are powerful and intelligent and kind. The cost of living is low, the prairie is wide and on clear nights, I can see all the stars in the sky above. I have reasonable access to two of my favorite cities, Indianapolis and Chicago. My commute is, with traffic, around six minutes. There have been some growing pains since I moved to the state but on the whole, I would have been happy to stay in Indiana for a while. Now, I want to leave.
The fiercest part of me knows I should stay and fight, but you cannot fight idiocy. You cannot fight a willful lack of common sense, a blatant disregard for decency, and a state government willing to codify discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. You cannot reason with people who don’t recognize the humanity in all of us.
I try to understand faith and religion. I was raised by wonderful Catholic parents who were deeply faithful and taught us that God is a God of love. Even though I am lapsed, I respect that others turn to God and religion for guidance, for solace, for salvation. What I cannot respect is when that faith dictates how others should live their lives. I cannot respect when such faith tells some people that their lives are unworthy of dignity.