Debate Forum: 04/07

Forum Center: Indiana wants me, Lord I can’t go back there

By Sarah Sidlow

The recent approval of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has businesses, political leaders and social groups up in arms on the grounds that it is anti-gay.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says, essentially, that the government cannot “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow their religious beliefs, unless it can prove a “compelling government interest” in imposing that burden.

There are already 20 states with “religious freedom” laws on the books, designed to protect an individual’s free expression of their faith. There is also a federal version, which was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993.

But there are a few reasons why Indiana’s is causing such a stir. Indiana’s version allows for larger corporations to claim that a ruling or mandate violates their religious faith. This ability is reserved for individuals or family businesses in other versions of the law.

But the biggest source of criticism is this: though gay marriage is legal in the state of Indiana, members of the LGBT community are not expressly considered members of a “protected class.” Being part of a protected class means you can’t be discriminated against for your religion, gender, race, etc. in areas like employment, housing and legislation. Pence has allegedly said he will not consider adding sexual orientation as a protected class consideration. Because of this, critics of Indiana’s RFRA worry the new law will create open season for discriminating against gays and lesbians. A frequently cited example: bakeries can legally refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples.

Businesses worry the religious freedom legislation will hurt their ability to recruit talent, because job seekers may worry about discrimination. Major public critics include Apple CEO Tim Cook, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is headquartered in Indianapolis, all of whom have blasted the new law, and threatened or enacted boycotts against the entire state of Indiana.

Yet there are others who support the heart of the measure. Proponents of the law say it will prevent the government from infringing on people and their ability to exercise their religious beliefs. They claim that the measure was intended to set a legal standard for cases where a person’s exercise of religion clashes with Indiana state law, not with another individual. They also claim business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, and if a gay couple is offended that the neighborhood bakery won’t make them a cake, they can easily spend their money with one who will. Perhaps, they say, the real intolerance isn’t being levied against homosexuals; it’s being levied against the religious faithful.

In addition to the 20 already on the books, 12 additional states have put similar religious freedom legislation on the table for consideration. And, of those 20 states, only three define sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. While a Georgia House panel recently cancelled a meeting to discuss a similar religious freedom bill, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently signed a religious freedom bill that was passed through the state’s Republican-led House. Arkansas does not recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should Indiana’s new controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act be repealed?

Debate Left: E pluribus duo

Response by Ben Tomkins

LGBT rights and freedoms are no longer the stuff of Midwestern wariness. In 2015, it is rare to find people in any but the most isolated or, for lack of a better word, “southern” areas of the country, who have actual concerns about the surge of homosexual acceptance. At the very least, even individuals who experience mild gastroenteritis when they see a gay couple kissing seem to be a bit to preoccupied with their bills these days to consider propaganda a worthwhile activity, and in many ways we can thank the recession for that. If a social issue doesn’t matter when you don’t have a job, it tends to suggest to even the dimmest mind that it must not have mattered in the first place when you had one.

This could easily lead one to believe that, although members of the LGBT community don’t officially have the same social protections afforded to women, other races, etc., it’s unnecessary to do so because strong public sentiment will create the kind of socioeconomic pressure that will essentially produce the same effect.

In fact, in response to Indiana’s religious freedom legislation, many businesses, events and even my fair city of Denver have chosen to boycott participation in any event or commerce in or originating from Indiana until the current situation is rectified. It certainly supports the socioeconomic argument, considering Indiana has already amended said legislation in the four days between this topic being assigned to me, and my actual penning of it. 

However, even though the result has been a not insignificant victory for the coalition community of LGBT’s and their supporters, it is an extraordinarily dangerous concession to accept the restoration of the status quo as progress. Socioeconomic punishment for discrimination is merely an indicator of an imperfection of our union, not the tool by which oppression is rectified. This is the time to act upon our convictions and amend the documents that define the bounds of social equality. To treat the recapturing of lost ground as an advance dishonors those who took up arms to sweep the enemy from the field. 

On a deeper level, there is irony to be found as well. The need for specially protected classes in a society founded on universal freedom and solidarity reveals the fragility of philosophical idealism when the bull that is the human animal is released into the china shop of the communal state. In many ways, the Civil Rights Act is as much a Statue of Liberty as it is an Auschwitz, standing for all time as an ominous reminder for future generations that the beast within us may be tamed, but never put down.

If it is to be believed that civil rights are indeed truths we hold to be self-evident, then it is by definition not within our power to grant them through legislation. They exist eternally, and it is by collective realization that we cease to suppress them. The actual act of writing them into the framework of our society is merely documentation of the date we officially acknowledge our ignorance. 

It is for this reason, among others, that the Ninth Amendment was included in the Constitution. It is one of the least cited of the amendments that isn’t overtly anachronistic, and reads: 

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” 

The founders themselves were wise enough to acknowledge that it was not only impossible to articulate anything but a skeleton of the most important rights, but also that there were inevitable circumstances that would arise they could have never even dreamt of. One has only to spend a few minutes with the works of Paine and Jefferson to realize that the Ninth was much more ambitious than a simple check on the expansion of government powers over the people. 

And yet, the right to live free from religious persecution from the state and from one’s fellow countrymen is treated as if it is somehow different from the right of a gay couple to do the same. That’s precisely where the laws granting extra and protection to religious classes fall woefully short.

We live in a godless state, and the individual should be able to live their life without, gee, I don’t know, being denied a wedding cake for a Presbyterian wedding by a Puritan bakery. It’s easy to say that the baker will have to suffer the loss of business and reputation the rest of the community heaps upon them, but what happens if everyone else agrees? Now the Presbyterian couple can’t buy clothes from the tailor, get their food from the local grocery store or even get a loan to buy a house. Nobody in this country would ever dream of risking the freedom to practice one’s religion of choice on free market principles, and general comity and sanity of everyone else living here. It’s too important, and the potential for disaster is too great.

However, that is precisely the state of affairs these laws are designed to impose upon the LGBT community. It is quite simply backdoor discrimination, and it’s supported by those who claim with a rather sickening hubris the right to do so because they have forgotten what it’s like to be on the other end of the switch. 

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Debate Right: Day of Infamy II

Response by Dave Westbrock

We have before us now a news story and political issue that has taken an obscure law and has resulted in one of the most hyperbolic muckraking news stories in decades. It concerns the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed recently by the Indiana Legislature and signed by Governor Pence. Federal legislation co-sponsored by a bi-partisan coalition of liberal democrats Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy, as well as Orrin Hatch of Utah and Christopher Cox of California was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton. The law was passed as a response to a Supreme Court ruling that set aside an apparent right of an Indian tribe in Oregon, in violation of state drug laws, to use peyote in their religious ceremonies. The 1993 statute stated, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability of the burden to the person … and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”

In short, what can it hurt, let them smoke weed if it’s for a religious purpose. A later Court ruling (Bourne v. Flores) found that Congress erred and that such religious exemptions did not apply to states, and as a result several states, including Indiana, passed RFRA laws. 

One may ask, then, how is it that a law that was appropriate and almost unanimous in 1993 on a federal basis, is now the work of discriminating troglodytes? The answer is quite simple. In the Oregon case, it was minority Indians who were being discriminated against, but in the recent furor in Indiana, it was majoritarian Christians who are the wrong doers. The liberal progressive orthodoxy does not defend tolerance but chooses sides upon whom to lavish support, and it is definitely not Christians. The progressive left has demonstrated in dozens of instances that it is fundamentally hostile to Christians and religions in general, preferring the god of state. There is, in their minds, no real religious freedom; apart from government blessing any more than there is right to own firearms, despite Constitutional guarantees of both. And what about free speech? Well, that is as long as it does not violate liberal orthodoxy. Just look at what is happening on college campuses across the nation. The culture in 2015 has been seized by the media mob, both broadcast and social media. Witness the event in a small Indiana town.

On Nov. 9, 1938 Brown Shirts terrorized Jewish businesses and synagogues in the wake of the killing of a German embassy official in Paris. The Night of Broken Glass, or Krystallnacht, will forever live in infamy as a violation of human rights of a people and the beginning of genocide. On April 1, 2015, Brown Shirts of a different stripe egged on by an encouraging media attempted to break a business based on comments by Crystal O’Connor, the owner of small family-owned pizza parlor. Furthermore, like Krystallnacht, owners were threatened with death and burning the business within hours of the erroneous news story. Furthermore, it appears that Angie’s List, Tim Cook’s Apple and others no longer believe in religious freedom. Are they opposed to exercising the tenets people of faith believe that include opposition to gay marriage? Are they just anti–Christian, or anti-religion in general? Nothing in any of these laws promotes or allows discrimination of gays. It was never an issue when the 1993 federal law was drafted, but it is now. Discrimination is the avoidance of allowing equal treatment based on factors specific to individuals and not acts, such as denying blacks service or disallowing bald people to vote. In the words of Governor Mike Huckabee, disagreement with gay marriage is discretion and not discrimination, particularly based on religious belief. Such distinction is lost on many, but has been the very basis of our culture up to the modern era. Gay marriage is an attempt to standardize an institution that is against most Christian religious catechesis. Good Christians, as part of their belief system are not entitled to judge others, but are mandated to oppose behavior they believe to be wrong. Does that mean that a Christian faithful to his or her religion should be ostracized and denied the right to free speech and legislative relief, if the majority holds such belief? 

I recently received a clipping from a 1975 newspaper article from a 1919 document following World War I, obtained from Allied Forces who found a copy of “Communist Rules for Revolution.” Among many now familiar refrains from the left are included, “2. Divide the people into hostile groups by constantly harping in controversial matters of no importance. 3. Destroy the people’s faith in their natural leaders by holding the latter up to contempt, ridicule and obloquy. … 7. By Specious argument, cause the breakdown of the old moral virtues, honesty, sobriety, confidence, faith in the pledged word, (and) ruggedness.” 

Does this sound familiar, Mr. Soros, Mr. Obama? Such agenda from early Communists sounds much like the current liberal manifesto and includes seizure of guns, and encouragement of fiscal irresponsibility; it preaches democracy, but seizes power as soon as possible. And not the least and most chilling, as a header to accomplish these others, “Get control of all means of publicity…” Mr. and Mrs. America, we are there.

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of healthcare reform and healthcare policy. He can be reached at

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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