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Indiana's "Discrimination" Law -- Let's Be Clear

The topic currently having its Warholian fifteen minutes in the focused eye of the media is the so-called “Religious Freedom” law passed last week by the Republican dominated legislature in Indiana and signed by former talk show host and current governor, Mike Pence.

The announcement of the law was met with a blizzard of protests, condemnations and calls for immediate repeal. Critics have come from all corners of the political mosaic including more than a few Republicans. Pence has been engaged in a rather amusing dance of denial and deception about this law and what it accomplishes and, importantly, what is was designed to accomplish.

Much of what Pence has been putting out there is best described as well (but painfully) crafted obfuscation. When asked (repeatedly) by George Stephanapolous to say, simply “yes” or “no” that this law allows someone to discriminate against a gay individual, Pence hopped around like someone trying to make it across a bed of hots coals without getting burnt.

Pence keeps saying the press has it wrong, the protestors are mistaken, the critics don’t understand. “This law,” he says, “does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.”

Here’s the rub. He is correct. It does not.

What it does do is to remove any legal threat from someone who does. This distinction, which is largely lost in the kerfuffle, is important. The previous circumstance in Indiana was simple. You can discriminate against anyone who is not a member of a protected class. But if you do, you are going to have to defend yourself in a court of law if that individual decides to sue.

The law doesn’t change the “right” to discriminate, though it is still just as socially unacceptable as before. The law says that, now, the discriminated person no longer has any legal recourse — provided, of course, that the individual doing the discriminating claims that it was based on religious belief.

Does the law, thusly, specifically allow for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people? Not really, but any business that does can now do so without any concerns about litigious consequences.

And, while waiting for the dust to settle, I’m looking forward to the first dust up when a devout, fundamentalist Muslim refuses to serve a Christian woman who entered his store unaccompanied by a man, or a Catholic business owner who refuses to cater a wedding of a heterosexual couple because both are divorced, or a Mormon who denies service to someone who’d been excommunicated from the Church of Latter-day Saints, or ….

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