During the recent firestorm over state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) like those passed by Indiana and the use of them to discriminate against LGBT people, one of my conservative friends pointed out many liberals and the ACLU supported the federal RFRA passed in 1993. He implied they were being hypocrites. Late last week the ACLU formally repudiated its support of the RFRA.
The ACLU provided some of the same reasons to remove their support of the RFRA that has been mentioned in previous posts about this issue:
The ACLU supported the RFRA’s passage at the time because it didn’t believe the Constitution, as newly interpreted by the Supreme Court, would protect people such as Iknoor Singh, whose religious expression does not harm anyone else. But we can no longer support the law in its current form. For more than 15 years, we have been concerned about how the RFRA could be used to discriminate against others. As the events of the past couple of years amply illustrate, our fears were well-founded. While the RFRA may serve as a shield to protect Singh, it is now often used as a sword to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people and others. Efforts of this nature will likely only increase should the Supreme Court rule — as is expected — that same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.
These cases differ fundamentally from Singh’s. Accommodating his faith doesn’t hurt anyone else; it just requires making an exception to a rule of uniformity that was never truly uniform. Not so in these other cases. Hobby Lobby employees are harmed because they now lack a benefit guaranteed by law. People turned away by an inn or bakery suffer the harm of being told that their kind isn’t welcome. And a teenage immigrant is harmed by not being provided care or even told about other health-care options.
Yes, religious freedom needs protection. But religious liberty doesn’t mean the right to discriminate or to impose one’s views on others.
It’s good to know that the ACLU sees the problem with the RFRA now and will work to change it.