Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
This morning, Indiana business leaders approved changes in Indiana's religious freedom legislation, which had sparked a wave of unprecedented protests, and prompted gay rights activists, the NCAA, tech business leaders and celebrities to call for a boycott of the state.
"The bill states the week-old law doesn’t give anyone the right to refuse services, employment or housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while also not allowing the law to provide a legal defense in a civil action over the refusal of service. It exempts churches and religious organizations," reported The Wall Street Journal.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, expressed dismay at the news.
"The original RFRA would give people their day in court; the proposed 'fix' would be a green light for driving religious people out of business. Our society should not settle this issue by punishing religious people before they even have their day in court," said Rienzi, in a statement released after the news broke today.
Advance America, which had endorsed the law's original language, modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as a much-needed protection for Christian bakers, photographers and others who did not want to participate in same-sex weddings, attacked the new language, which is expected to be approved by the legislature. The group claimed that the changes would "destroy" religious freedom protection in Indiana.
Amid calls for a full repeal of the law, legislative and business leaders announced that the law would now include language that explicitly barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The details of the fix have not yet been provided.
"Business, civic and sports leaders who have strongly called for a fix to the divisive 'religious freedom' legislation flanked Indiana Republicans as they announced sexual orientation and gender identity will be explicitly protected in the new law," reported the Indianapolis Star.
"Speaking at the press conference were Allison Melangton, who headed planning for the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Jim Morris, vice chairman of the Pacers, former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and Salesforce Marketing Cloud CEO Scott McCorkle."
However, the Becket Fund's Mark Rienzi contended that the proposed “fix” was unnecessary, and that two decades of experience with this kind of law clarified that it provided "crucial protections to religious minorities."
"The key disagreement is over what should happen in a very small class of cases where individuals are asked to participate in a same-sex wedding in violation of their religious beliefs. In that situation, there are two possibilities: (1) Our government can drive religious people out of business, fine them, and possibly even imprison them; or (2) our government can say that these religious people deserve a day in court, and that courts should carefully balance religious liberty with other competing values," said Rienzi.
The Becket Fund, a public interest group, represents EWTN in its legal challenge to the Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate. The Register is a service of EWTN.
Meanwhile, Arkansas' religious freedom law is on hold, after protests mounted. Walmat executives also criticized the bill. They noted additional concerns, including fears that the legislation would make it easier to claim that corporations had violated religious freedom protections.
And a small-town pizza shop run by Christians, who were asked bya TV reporter whether they would cater a same-sex wedding and said they wouldn't, has been temporarily closed after the owners were beseiged by gay activists angry at their comments.
The TV reporter later confirmed that the pizza parlor owners had never actually denied a request that they cater a wedding for a same-sex couple, and only responded to a question about a theoretical scenario. But the manufactured story about this theoretical denial of service was enough to provoke some to threaten to burn down the small family business.