Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Indiana's new measure invites individuals and corporations to violate state and local laws, regulations and rules, and claim, as a legal defense in court, that they were following their own religious principles. (Photo: TrendyTron/#boycottindiana)

The Indiana Law Promoting Discrimination Is a New Low

Bernie Horn

 by People's Action Blog

Last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed SB 101 into law, the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Apparently, Pence was surprised at the nationwide outcry against the law and he’s adopted a defensive crouch.

“There has been a lot of misunderstanding this bill,” Pence asserts. “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would’ve vetoed it.”

But of course it’s about discrimination! That’s the point of the law. It invites individuals and corporations to violate state and local laws, regulations and rules, and claim, as a legal defense in court, that they were following their own religious principles.

On its face, the Indiana law doesn’t mention sexuality. But the measure is aimed at the gay-lesbian-bisexual-trensgender community and not others because the state can’t override federal law that protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. While other states are filling the gap between federal and state law, passing LGBT Fairness Acts to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, Indiana is going in the opposite direction.

How does this work? Indianapolis, Bloomington, South Bend, Evansville, and other cities and counties currently prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Under SB 101, individuals and companies can insist that equal treatment of LGBT people violates their religious principles. It would be naïve to think that companies won’t use SB 101 to discriminate, or that individuals won’t be encouraged to discriminate by right-wing organizations that will promise to cover their legal defense.

Conservatives have a fallback argument. Even if the law invites individuals and corporations to discriminate, they ask, why is everybody picking on Indiana? The federal government and 19 other states have passed similar laws, they say.

It is true that other jurisdictions have enacted so-called “religious freedom” laws, but Indiana’s is the broadest and worst.

Media Matters did a good job of explaining why the Indiana law is not comparable to the federal statute enacted in 1993 in reaction to a Supreme Court ruling. While the federal law is limited and fairly benign, SB 101 is written very broadly and designed to provide legal ammunition for conservatives in litigation against governments and in private disputes.

The argument that Indiana’s law is the same as 19 other states is propaganda based upon the law’s title and not its contents. (Sadly, The Washington Post repeated that propaganda.) A thorough legal analysis of SB 101’s language can be found here.

SB 101 goes beyond other laws because its definition of “exercise of religion” is unlimited; potential complainants are unlimited (individuals, partnerships, corporations); and it applies to unlimited types of lawsuits.

Last year, the Arizona legislature passed a “religious freedom” bill that was similarly overreaching, and right-wing Republican Governor Jan Brewer, noting the legislation “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want,” vetoed it. It seems that Pence lacks Brewer’s common sense. The new Indiana law invites other states to enact this kind of extreme legislation, and it looks like Arkansas will soon accept that invitation.

Nearly seven score years ago, our nation declared its independence based on the proposition that “all men are created equal,” and a few years later, our founders adopted the First Amendment, guaranteeing everyone the right to religious freedom. These founding documents have served us well. We don’t need SB 101’s religious “rights,” and the idea of using religion to bully others violates America’s fundamental values.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ahead of Historic House Hearing, Fresh Big Oil Misinformation Campaign Exposed

"It's always helpful to remember that big fossil fuel companies (besides being overwhelmingly responsible for carbon pollution) are also skeevy disinformation hucksters."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Very Welcome' Progress as Iran Agrees to Restart Talks on Nuclear Deal Sabotaged by Trump

One peace advocate urged all sides to reconvene negotiations "as soon as possible and with renewed urgency" to avert "disastrous" consequences for Iran and the world.

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives: 'When We Said These Two Bills Go Together, We Meant It'

"Moving the infrastructure bill forward without the popular Build Back Better Act risks leaving behind working people, families, and our communities."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo