Arkansas Wants A ‘Religious Freedom’ Law Like Indiana’s, And It’s Not A Coincidence

If 2014 was known as the year of advancement for LGBTQ rights, at least in terms of marriage equality, then 2015 may soon come to be known as the year of retaliation. After Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a “religion freedom” bill into law, Arkansas’ Senate on Friday approved a bill very similar to Indiana’s.

Backers of the bills and people like Pence have adamantly denied that the bills have anything to do with discrimination against LGBTQ people. Pence, while visibly irritable at the supposed slew of misinformation regarding his new state’s law, has repeatedly dodged the question as to whether the law would allow anti-gay discrimination.

“George [Stephanopolous], look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two way street or not? I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. But here, Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.”

This came on the heels of Pence explaining that “he had no plans to add protections for LGBT people to the state’s civil rights laws,” according to Raw Story.

Indiana is not the only state to have such a law, and other states have proposed similar bills in the past. Advocates for the bills explain that a business owner should not be forced to cater to someone if they feel that it would be a violation of their personal religious beliefs to do so. Many backers frequently cite the example of a bakery that was sued for discrimination after refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

As a direct result of Indiana’s new law, many large companies have spoken out against the law, and some, like Apple and SalesForce, have even decided to stop doing business in Indiana. This followed a massive #BoycottIndiana movement on social media.

“Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook on Twitter.

It’s hard to buy that laws like this aren’t in direct retaliation to the sweeping advancements in marriage rights and legal incidents where business owners refused to cater to gay and lesbian couples. Social conservatives have frequently touted such incidents as examples of how religious liberty in America is being trampled upon. Bryan Fischer, former Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, has even decried the actions of “the hellish, demonic fury of the Gay Gestapo in Indiana,” and explained that the real bigots were actually “pro-gay forces.”

This particular interpretation of “religious freedom” that some take to mean “freedom to discriminate” is the same attitude that leads people to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequence.” In both cases, it’s the twisting of an idea to support personal vitriol and to play the victim when bigotry does not go unopposed.

Because religious freedom is not, and never has been, under assault — especially if you’re a Christian in America. Not being able to discriminate against someone based on race, sex, sexual identity or sexual orientation is just a part of being a decent American citizen. Business owners have the freedom to refuse service to individuals based on certain criteria, but they should not be allowed to do so to entire groups of people based on some faith-based disagreement with who they are.

As a result, it’s hard not to believe that “religious freedom” is being used as anything other than a weapon. Mike Pence is right in that the media has latched on to this issue and has written about it from the perspective of bigotry, but this isn’t out of some massive conspiracy or misunderstanding — it’s simply calling it for what it is.

[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

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