Religious freedom law must be changed: law needs substantial rewrite to eliminate possibility of discrimination

Governor of Indiana Mike Pence recently signed a new religious freedom law that has stirred more controversy around the U.S. than most could have predicted. Opponents say the law would allow business owners in Indiana to turn customers away if the owners felt that the customers were violating their religious freedoms.

Specifically, opponents believe the law could allow business owners to turn people away based on someone’s race, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion and other protected classes. From the CEO of Apple, to the head of the NCAA, to Hillary Clinton , even all the way to Cher, there has been enormous public outcry about the law, which will go into effect July of this year.

The LGBT community has been one of the most dominant forces in the fight to end this law as it has the power to harm people in the LGBT community directly.

Indiana is the 20th state to adopt a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So you may be thinking, “Why was there such an uproar about Indiana signing the law?” The answer is simple.

The law in Indiana is frankly too vague. The law asserts that “the government can’t ‘substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’ and that individuals who feel like their religious beliefs have been or could be ‘substantially burdened’ can lean on this law to fend off lawsuits.”

The problem is people can interpret the phrase “substantially burdened” in so many ways. In the wrong hands, the law can do a lot of harm. It could protect a business owner if they refused service to someone whom they felt burdened their ability to exercise their religion.

Of course, the government of Indiana is denying the assertion that the law is discriminatory. But the fact is, even if it was signed with the best intentions, this law is still a huge step backwards for the U.S. as it has the power to be used in a discriminatory way.

The Huffington Post commented what it thought of the law.

“The law gives business owners a stronger legal defense if they refuse to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers and want to cite their faith as justification for their actions.” Religious conservatives in the state, including Governor Mike Pence, are in full support of the law, while groups advocating for LGBT rights and human rights in general  are all against it.

Many, including Governor Pence himself, are surprised by the amount of attention this law is receiving. It has led to officials in Washington  State and others encouraging citizens not to travel to Indiana. Corporations are also pulling out of major business deals with the state because of the discriminatory language and nature of the law. Indiana simply is not a place a lot of people, businesses, and governments want to support right now because there are so many people against the law.

Public outcry has gotten so bad that, after just one week of announcing the decision, a change in the law has already been made. This change, which was added just a week after the announcement, uses specific language to assert that the law does not allow and will not allow discrimination against anyone at anytime.

According  to CNN, the changes forbid businesses from using the law as a defense in court for refusing to provide certain services.

“Businesses can not refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing” to any customers based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

The fact that the law has already been changed after only one week is commendable. The people spoke and so the law has changed. This is the perfect example of our government listening and responding to the demands of the people. There is still strong opposition towards the law.

However, the bold clarification that this law cannot be used in a discriminatory way is a step in the right direction. Discrimination in this country is becoming less tolerated and this can only be the start of a social and political change that the U.S. desperately needs.

People are no longer willing to sit by and let ignorance discriminate against certain groups.

“While feelings about religious freedom laws are bound to be complicated, the harsh reaction to Indiana’s law suggests that mainstream America no longer condones overtly discriminatory treatment towards the LGBT community,” said The Huffington Post.

The LGBT community and the American people overall should be proud of their success in uniting the nation against a law that would not protect someone’s right to be themselves.