Politics & Policy

In Indiana, Hysteria as a Bludgeon

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)

Hysteria works. That’s the lesson of the debate, such as it is, over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Nothing so captured the spirit of the discussion as an exchange Tuesday on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.” That is, of course, the eponymous program hosted by Ed Schultz, who is the Edward R. Murrow of poorly informed bombast. For him, “Shut up, he explained,” is a high-toned argument.

Schultz proved it when his guest Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation badly overmatched him by saying knowledgeable things about RFRA, and, unable to handle it, the host had Anderson’s mic cut off. Ah, yes, #debate.

Rarely has one side had so few facts on its side and gotten such results through sheer repetition of the word “discrimination” and through lurid, fantastical denunciations.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has been on the run. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has sent an RFRA passed by his state legislature back for amendment. And future Republican governors may conclude, with former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who vetoed an RFRA last year, that preemptive surrender is the best option.

As anyone who has been paying attention should know (but most still don’t), the Indiana law says that the state can’t substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless there is a compelling governmental interest at stake and it is pursued by the least restrictive means.

In this, it is just like RFRAs at the federal level and in other states. Much is made of the fact that the Indiana law arguably goes beyond the federal version by including private suits to which the government is not party — although a number of circuit courts have interpreted the federal law that way, as well.

RFRAs aren’t often successfully invoked, but sometimes a religious petitioner — say, a Native American who uses eagle feathers in a ceremony — can prevail against a government regulation. It is possible that RFRA could be used by a baker or florist who objects to providing services to a gay wedding to protect against a fine or a lawsuit, although it hasn’t happened anywhere yet.

But let’s not dwell on facts or reality. No one else does.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was the pacesetter when it came to ignorant denunciations of the Indiana law. In a Washington Post op-ed, he wrote that the law “would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors.”

One wonders what crisis of neighborliness Cook imagines happening in the dystopian world of post-RFRA Indiana:

Neighbor #1: “Can I borrow your pruning shears?”

Neighbor #2: “No, I don’t like your kind around here. Please see SENATE ENROLLED ACT No. 101, Section 7.”

Since Indianapolis is hosting the Final Four, NCAA President Mark Emmert opined, “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.” A man of action, he vowed that the NCAA will “work diligently” to see that basketball players at the Final Four are not “negatively impacted by this bill.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Emmert will succeed, given that it’s impossible to imagine what the potential negative impact might be. Perhaps if two so-called student-athletes playing for the University of Kentucky decide to get married at midcourt and are turned away by the Christian florist they were hoping to provide boutonnieres for the team?

Gay former NBA player Jason Collins raised the prospect of suffering discrimination immediately upon setting foot at the Final Four — as if every Uber driver, hotel receptionist, waiter and Lucas Oil Stadium beer vendor is now anxiously awaiting the opportunity to discriminate on avowed religious grounds against the first very tall, semifamous gay guy they encounter.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2015 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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