Rules Are for Schmucks: RFRA Bares its Christian Fangs

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was originally presented to the world as being content-neutral. It wasn’t supposed to favor any one religion over another; it allowed practitioners of all different varieties of religion the freedom to ignore laws at will whenever God tells them to. In fact, the original version of RFRA was passed by Congress back in 1993 in order to allow practitioners of some Native American religion the freedom to damage their brains by ingesting unregulated hallucinogenic drugs that are banned for the rest of us.

Some of us suspected all along that glorifying druggies and ritual animal murderers was not really the driving force behind the well-financed lobbying campaign that brought us RFRA—first in Congress and now in twenty-one states—and that the Christian right must be the real engine. Now thanks to Louisiana’s governor Bobby “the Exorcist” Jindal, we have our smoking gun.

Louisiana’s legislature has, for several months, considered legislation to expand the state’s existing RFRA to explicitly refer to issues relating to marriage. A logician would argue that no such expansion is needed, because the original RFRA already covers everything government does, and marriage is a subset of “everything.” No matter. The idea was to look tough in the face of an upcoming Supreme Court decision that may legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country. Besides, passing laws that don’t mean anything is a lot easier than dealing with matters like the billion dollar budget deficit Jindal has racked up, in part by subsidizing the teaching of creationism in schools. The legislators, though, decided that making Louisiana the next Indiana was not something that would help tourism in New Orleans. So last week they killed the bill.

This gave Jindal the chance to don his superhero costume and fly to the rescue by signing an executive order to implement part (though not all) of what the legislature deliberately rejected. The wording of his order is highly instructive.

A neutral interpretation of RFRA as it relates to the institution of marriage would allow, depending on the whim of the judge, lots of interesting things–like polygamy. There’s no question that major world religions, such as Islam, endorse polygamy. The scriptures Jindal would have read while being raised as a Hindu say the same thing. So do the scriptures of that uniquely American religion, Mormonism. If Jindal truly believes that “Religious liberty is the ability to live our lives according to our faith twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” then surely Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons must be allowed to live their lives according to their scriptures, right? If being raised by a father and a mother is so good for children, as the Christian right insists, then being raised by a father and four mothers has to be even better.

But note Jindal’s words carefully. He refers to “our” lives and “our” faith, not to “their” lives and “their” faith. His executive order doesn’t encompass all genuinely-held religious views on marriage but only one particular view: that of Jindal’s fellow Christians. By its own terms, the executive order protects only the religious belief in monogamy.

But not just any kind of Christian monogamy—France’s United Protestant Church has become the latest in a long line of Christian denominations to smack its forehead and exclaim that God has really been for same-sex marriage all along. So can members of this denomination travel to France’s former colony and have a same-sex marriage performed and recognized, exercising their deeply held religious belief? They could if Jindal were sincere, but he isn’t. He couldn’t care less about even-handed religious freedom. What he’s after is special privilege for one branch of one religion—and by happy coincidence, the branch that happens to be running over with big campaign contributors. That’s why his executive order limits its protection to the “religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Jindal has gotten in trouble in the past for describing some Protestant denominations as “scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical.” Clearly, same-sex marriage Protestants are not deserving of religious liberty—only Catholics and right-thinking Protestants like the Southern Baptists get the benefit of that.

Perhaps Jindal was inspired by the religious freedom on display in nearby Alabama, where last week a Unitarian minister (talk about a denomination that’s scandalous and depraved!) was convicted of the crime of conducting a same-sex wedding, for which she was sentenced to a $250 fine and thirty days in jail (suspended in lieu of six months of probation).

Prior to RFRA, America had what can best be called the “rule of law,” with one set of rules for everyone to follow regardless of belief. Then RFRA came along and replaced that with “chaos,” letting everyone make up their own rules as they go along. Jindal’s plan is to replace chaos with “theocracy,” where government explicitly enforces one particular religious belief to the exclusion of all others.