Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Searching for Equality in Indiana and Beyond

By john a. powell

Throughout the history of our nation, many faith traditions have led on social issues. Religious leaders and faith-based communities played a critical role in the abolitionist movement, suffragist movement, and civil rights movement. Even today, there are vigorous and active communities of faith that speak out publicly to the issues of our time, from #blacklivesmatter to Moral Mondays in North Carolina.

At the same time, there is also a long history of drawing upon scripture or using religion as grounds for exclusion or an excuse for discrimination. Supporters of slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, and anti-miscegenation justified these practices and policies, in part, on religious traditions. The proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act under consideration in Indiana is an unfortunate continuation of this less salutary tradition.

While it is vital to respect religious beliefs and practices of different groups, that must not become a justification for discrimination. The RFRA would permit, in some circumstances, individuals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs in delivering goods and services. Whether intended or not, this law is also likely to embolden discrimination and create a hostile atmosphere for gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in Indiana.

It is especially troubling when the state effectively sanctions private discrimination, placing its weight and imprimatur behind the beliefs of a few to exclude and marginalize. The state is a public entity, entrusted to create and foster space where all members are cared for, respected, and included.

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society strongly disagrees with Indiana’s proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Our message is one of inclusion and fairness, of belonging and not "othering", and we support the LGBTQ communities of Indiana – and the world - to be respected and treated with dignity. We ask Indiana and all other state and local governments to reject the institutionalized exclusion of groups based on differences that enrich, rather than impoverish, society.