Theater of the Absurd in Indiana

April 23, 2015 | , . | Posted in From the Director

The recent furor in Indiana has made it plain that religious freedom, once the very cornerstone of the American project, is no longer a living doctrine that animates our national life.

The first line of the First Amendment – which guarantees the free exercise of religion – is no longer first in the hearts of our countrymen. Rather, it has become a relic from a bygone age. It remains in place, but is not understood, and has fallen into disrepair, like an old aqueduct after the fall of Rome that bears a diminishing trickle of water amidst the ruin.

Indiana attempted to pass a very modest law that would merely allow people to raise their religious beliefs as a defense in court. The bill was modeled after a federal law that has been in place since 1993. Roughly thirty states, including Kansas, have similar laws, either through legislation or court decision.

The federal law that the Indiana bill mirrors was signed by President Bill Clinton, passed the US House of Representatives unanimously, and the US Senate 97-3. Senator Ted Kennedy was the bill’s sponsor. It has been used to protect Hobby Lobby from the HHS Mandate, a Muslim inmate forbidden from having a short religious beard, a Sikh woman fired after bringing a ceremonial blade to work, etc.

After being on the books for over twenty years, there is not a single case where this law has been used to allow discrimination against gays. Yet the media has portrayed the Indiana bill as an unprecedented, diabolical attack on LGBT Americans.

Hillary Clinton, whose husband signed the federal bill into law, tweeted against it without even a hint of embarrassment. A “Boycott Indiana” movement was quickly born, and even the NCAA made rumblings about relocating out of the state. Since the federal government and a majority of states have versions of the Indiana proposal in law, where are they going to go?

Perhaps Saudi Arabia. After all, Apple, whose CEO slammed all such bills as “dangerous,” has recently expanded its footprint there, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia executes gays.

Even more disturbing than such staggering displays of hypocrisy is the fact that Godzilla-attacks-Tokyo levels of mass hysteria were able to be generated just by calling something “anti-gay.” Political and media elites have realized that they can distort the issue with complete impunity. Supporters of religious liberty lack the confidence and even the vocabulary to defend it.

Just a short time ago, religious freedom was the issue that could unite warring political parties. Now, it has one party on a rampage of militant secularism, another party running for cover, and people of faith left wondering if anyone will still be standing with them when all the dust settles.