Richard A. Sokerka
Religious freedom is under fire again and the state of Indiana is ground zero.
With the passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana joined other states that already have similar laws, mirroring the federal Religious Freedom and Reformation Act that President Clinton signed into law in 1993. While that law was originally intended to apply to both federal and state actions, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that is applied only federally. Including Indiana and Arkansas this year, 21 states have since passed their own versions of this law. President Obama, then a state senator, voted for the Illinois Religious Freedom Act in 1998.
Yet, Indiana’s law ignited a firestorm of protests by those who believe it is discriminatory in nature. Nowhere does this law state that one individual or company is allowed to trample the rights of another individual for any reason. And this law — like the federal law — checks the potential for government overreach when it comes to an individual’s right to practice his or her religious beliefs.
Those who take aim at Indiana’s religious freedom law should know the important role religious freedom has in America’s history. As President Clinton said when he signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom. Our Founders cared a lot about religion. And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the first amendment into the Bill of Rights is that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both religion and government could be perverted if there were not some space created and some protection provided. They knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between government and people of faith that otherwise government might usurp.”