It’s been an exhausting week in Indiana. Last week the legislature passed a bill conforming Indiana courts to the same interpretation of religious liberty that exists in 29 other states and federal law. Then the media started bellowing about a “license to discriminate against gays and lesbians,” and all hell broke loose. Suddenly all anyone wanted to talk about was wedding cake. Until Wednesday, when all they wanted to talk about was wedding cake—and pizza.
In case you missed it, here’s what I saw from the eye of the hurricane: the legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in order to fix the deficiency in our state law that did not mandate the use of strict scrutiny when courts heard a religious liberty case. The strict scrutiny test is usually applied to cases involving the fundamental freedoms of the Bill of Rights.
Equal protection claims, on the other hand, (such as complaints that the law treats straight people and gay people differently) are judged on what’s called the “rational basis” test. In those cases, the state only has to prove that there is a “legitimate” governmental interest involved. On both sides, those who know the law understand equal protection claims are likely to fall when they clash with fundamental freedoms. The legislature wanted to mandate the stricter standard, to protect religious liberty. Gay activists knew it would be harder to win an equal protection case against religious people under that standard, so they opposed it. But until it was passed, they barely said a word.
Then the Governor signed it—and the activists were not pleased. They pressured businesses, who were only too glad to give in. Tim Cook, the gay CEO of Apple, decried the zealots of Indiana, who were just waiting for the chance to discriminate against his employees, or his friends, or someone. Hillary Clinton (whose husband signed the first RFRA, after it passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate by 97-3) tsk-tsked that such a law could be passed in our enlightened times.
Angie’s List threatened to abandon its expansion in Indianapolis. The NCAA fretted that its players might not be welcomed.
Talk radio overflowed with anger and confusion. Thanks to the media, the question of the day, all day, every day was “should a Christian baker be allowed to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding?” Most ordinary people said yes—politely. Most activists shrieked no—often with expletives.
The problem is that the law doesn’t address gay rights. Or wedding cakes. Or the rights of personal service contractors to do or not do anything. It establishes a standard of scrutiny that meets that of the federal government when it deals with religious liberty cases. That’s IT.
Regardless of the facts, the media beclowned itself in its rush to paint Hoosiers as demonic homophobes (probably racist, too!) For days, Indiana led the national news the way Ferguson did not too long ago. It looked grim for civil discourse.
Then, smack in the middle of the “evil Christians” narrative, something entirely predictable happened (but a “game-changer,” nonetheless, as they would say in Empire). A slimy “journalist” went trolling for Christians to poke at with a microphone, to see if they would incriminate themselves. She found Crystal O’Connor–the sweet, soft-spoken young lady you’ve heard on the news that said they would serve anyone that came in to the pizza restaurant, but it would be against their faith to serve at a gay wedding (a pizza-stocked gay wedding that existed only in the mind of the interviewer, by the way—it had never actually happened.)
The sky fell.
Within hours, the pizzeria’s Yelp score had been driven down by patently false reviews from activists around the country calling it “hateful” pizza. The store received death threats. Someone filled their web presence with pornography. A teacher in Elkhart sent out a tweet asking who wanted to come with her to the store and burn it down. The store closed—but not before becoming known to the kind of people who could help them weather the storm.
National talk radio hosts Dana Loesch, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin (that I know of) told the story. Someone set up a gofundme page which, as of this writing, has collected over $450,000 for the owners of the store.
Our reasonable, amiable, frustrated governor decided that if you can’t prove to the media that the law doesn’t authorize discrimination–spell it out for them. So the Republicans and the gay rights activists, and the religious minorities and the Chamber of Commerce and the companies planning to pull out presented a united front on Thursday morning, having written an amendment that literally did just that. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t revoke anything. It just makes plain what was supposed to be implied by the absence of an authorization to discriminate. It should be called the “Can you hear me now?” amendment.
And so, the business community is calming down. Gay leaders and the Chamber of Commerce are playing nice. The lions are lying down with the lambs and quiet has returned to the land.
Before long, the dust-up will be forgotten, and the strict scrutiny standard will rarely even be needed. For now, the NCAA can proceed to the Final Four and the Championship, playing basketball the way God intended—in Indiana.