Indiana Humanists Respond to Religious Freedom Law

The Indiana State Capitol Building

A person’s home is a piece of their identity. While being aware that Indiana has a right-wing Christian majority, both theists and nontheists have never been more embarrassed to identify as a “Hoosier” than after the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Our state prides itself on our welcoming attitude toward everyone—the passing of this law goes against our traditional “Hoosier Hospitality.”

It’s frustrating that Indiana is a source of national outrage with #BoycottIndiana trends and memes. At the same time, many Hoosiers advocated for the inclusion of LGBTs as a protected class from religious discrimination, which would be more similar in language to the other nineteen states’ RFRAs.

The “Recall Mike Pence” petition currently has 92,835 signatures and is being delivered to Gov. Pence’s office to persuade change today.* Hoosiers contacted legislatures and protested in the streets and online. Businesses and national conventions are threatening to leave Indiana because they are also standing up against discrimination. The six Fort Wayne conventions alone are worth $1.2 million dollars, the larger Gen Con Indianapolis convention is worth $50 million, and even the Disciples of Christ church is threatening to cancel its convention worth $5.9 million. This ultimately means RFRA is driving both dollars and sanity out while encouraging delusional beliefs.

March 28, 2015 Fort Wayne Rally against RFRA with (left to right) Lauren, Luke, and Phil from FreeThought Fort Wayne.

March 28, 2015 Fort Wayne Rally against RFRA with (left to right) Lauren, Luke, and Phil from FreeThought Fort Wayne.

The Hoosiers supporting RFRA says it’s promoting their “religious freedom” and ask: How is it fair that my rights of practicing my religion should be infringed upon? One restaurant owner called an Indianapolis morning radio talk show, Kyle & Rachel on RadioNOW, to brag about how he has discriminated even before RFRA passed and that he would now post a sign to prevent LGBTs. He confessed to denying services to perceived LGBTs by saying there was an equipment failure in the kitchen and that he could not prepare them a meal. Just yesterday, Memories Pizza in Walkerton became Indiana’s first business to publicly deny service to LGBT customers because of this right to protect their religious beliefs. The religious cite their holy books to justify their position and claim that other passages teach tolerance and love but not to LGBTs because they cannot go against the will of their god. Reminding them that their holy book states all sin is equal and all people are sinners from birth is not enough persuasion for all. In that case, they tend to perform extreme mental gymnastics of thoughts passed down from generations to escape the guilt and shame of discrimination. Interacting with these Hoosiers of our community can be demoralizing, yet it reminds us of our cause for humanism.

What can the FreeThought Fort Wayne chapter of the American Humanist Association do in our community? We are humanists and freethinkers who are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity by promoting separation of church and state. At a local Fort Wayne rally held last weekend, believers and FreeThought Fort Wayne members alike gathered to oppose the legislation. There were other rallies in Indiana, the biggest being the one held in Indianapolis.

FTFWAn Indianapolis grassroots campaign called “Open For Service” was launched to identify businesses that are not supportive of RFRA. This campaign offers stickers while building an online directory to celebrate businesses that oppose discrimination for more than just LGBTs: “black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, disabled…well, you get our drift.” We purchased 100 stickers to distribute in Fort Wayne to identify our community businesses and help build the Open for Service online directory for Fort Wayne.

If Hoosiers are known for our hospitality, how did RFRA pass? Indiana had the lowest voter turnout in the last election at 28.8 percent. However, it’s hard to completely blame voters because many positions on the ballot ran unopposed. FreeThought Fort Wayne will continue to encourage Hoosiers to vote and will conduct a workshop on how to contact legislatures and keep citizens involved politically. With all that has been happening in Indiana, it’s promising that the next election cycle will have more citizen participation because Hoosiers want representation.

In addition, FreeThought Fort Wayne will continue to grow our secular community by meeting every fourth Thursday of each month. Our outreach includes educating our community about humanism, encourage fellowship with thoughtful theists, volunteering, and promoting the joy of science and critical thought. We want theists to know we are your neighbors and we are good people too.

Even though many Hoosiers are against RFRA because sexual orientation is not a protected class federally, we need to remember that lack of belief is also not protected for federal or state. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. All secular organizations need to promote secularism before the public will support any laws for us. This starts with encouraging people to confess their lack of belief to their loved ones. Just like LGBTs do when opening up, we need to remind our families and friends: we are the same people you loved before you knew.

*UPDATE: The Huffington Post reported earlier today that “Indiana lawmakers are set to introduce new language for the state’s ‘religious freedom’ law Thursday, to clarify that the law does not allow businesses to deny goods or services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.” Additionally, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who was poised to sign the RFRA bill into law in Arkansas, has asked for changes in the bill, facing mounting pressure against signing it from corporations like Walmart, and citing his son’s lack of support for the bill (his son signed a petition against it), a “generational difference,” as another reason.

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