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RFRA designed to promote discrimination

Nathan James

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Recently, Joe Puchner wrote an editorial entitled “Treatment of RFRA supporters unfair.” The piece refers to a recent and controversial piece of Indiana legislation which provides additional legal protection for religious action. Many have pointed out the flaws in this piece of legislation, but Puchner argues it is harmless. I am here to explain why that 
is wrong.

First, Puchner asserts over 20 states as well as the federal government have laws similar to the RFRA. However, he fails to mention two key differences between the RFRA and these other pieces of legislation. First, the RFRA contains language specifically and explicitly including businesses in its sphere of protection, which is unique. And second, the RFRA can be applied in court cases where the state is not a participant, which is also unique.

Together, these two differences allow the RFRA to protect businesses which are the target of a civil suit, something no other similar piece of legislation accomplishes. Because of this difference, the RFRA is the only piece of legislation which could conceivably be used to protect a business owner who refuses service to a customer for religious reasons.

Because of the ongoing hubbub about whether or not businesses should be required to serve gay individuals, many have concluded that the RFRA exists to give Christian-run businesses the power to discriminate. This conclusion makes perfect sense based on the singular content of the RFRA and the political context in which it was created.

With that point made, it’s time to discuss the audacity with which some conservatives have tried to deceive the public about the RFRA.

Imagine if a person has repeatedly expressed, in public, the desire to commit a smash-and-grab robbery. You see that person walking towards a window display with a brick. They assure you the brick is not to be used for any illicit purpose, and they intend to build a house with it. They howl that by questioning them and their brick, you’re being unfair and expressing prejudice against homeowners.

The strategy employed by Puchner and others has 
simply been to deny, deny, deny. He asserts over and over the RFRA can’t be used to legalize discrimination, but he never explains why. He never addresses that the RFRA can protect corporations, or that it can be used in civil suits in which the state is not a participant. He expects us to trust his assertions even though they aren’t corroborated with supporting facts, fail to address crucial details and pass over many of the essential moral questions raised by the RFRA.

Puchner complains there hasn’t been any room for reasoned discussion or public discourse about the RFRA. This is untrue. There’s been plenty of reasoned discussion and public discourse, but most of it will conclude that the RFRA is unnecessary and dangerous, because that’s what the truth is. Puchner and others like him aren’t dissatisfied with the quality of discourse. They’re dissatisfied that it hasn’t gone their way.

It’s no longer good enough for Puchner to complain that reasoned discussion isn’t happening. It’s time for him to start 
creating some.

Nathan James is a senior majoring in psychology. His column runs weekly.

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RFRA designed to promote discrimination