In the United States, our laws provide citizens the protection from government actions that violate their religious beliefs. Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious business owners from prosecution for not serving individuals with different values than themselves.
In theory, granting business owners protection from the government on the basis of their religious beliefs is a good idea. However, ‘religious freedom’ is usually discussed with regard to a specific socio-political context—mainly, the issue of gay marriage.
It’s important to consider the context in which the government would violate a business owner’s religious beliefs. Some states have anti-discriminatory measures that prevent business owners from demonstrating bigotry against gay customers and potential employees because of their sexual orientation.
Indiana’s new law would prevent the government from forcing business owners to adopt these anti-discriminatory measures. However, in a conservative state whose citizens are in general less supportive of gay marriage, the LGBT community may be faced with new avenues of discrimination.
This presents a problem in which protecting the civil rights of one person violates those of another. Indiana’s anti anti-discriminatory law creates the potential for business owners with different value systems to infringe on their consumers’ basic human rights.
If we, as a nation, believe that all should be treated equally under the law, we must also understand that this type of legislation alone is not enough to create a truly free and equal society. In order to protect the human rights of everyone, the government may have to exercise its authority to actively combat discrimination and deeply held cultural biases to provide equal opportunities for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.