Codified discrimination and corporate personhood

I posted this meme to social media yesterday and intended to add a few words about the controversy in Indiana here.

This photo shows pretty damning evidence that Indiana’s religious freedom law is a veiled — thinly veiled — attempt to legislate discrimination, no matter how much Gov. Mike Pence claims that is not the case:

Credit: Glaad

Credit: Glaad

This whole issue boils down to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Hobby Lobby erroneously declaring that a corporation can be considered “a person” under the federal religious freedom law in denying employees insurance coverage. Essentially, thanks to the court, companies can now claim an exemption from federal law based on religion. Indiana and Mississippi are the only states to have passed their own religious freedom laws, while similar bills in Oklahoma and Georgia have more or less been scrapped.

Pence has claimed that Indiana’s bill is the same as the federal law that was signed into law in 1993 under then-President Bill Clinton, which, of course, begs the questions: If the bill is no different, isn’t it also redundant?

As Jay Michaelson, with The Daily Beast, points out, the Hobby Lobby decision and the notion of corporate personhood “changed the game”:

Now, does Gov. Pence know this? Of course he does. The law’s own supporters have used the same examples for years: the baker who shouldn’t have to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the photographer, the florist. To most of us, that looks like discrimination—putting a “No Gays Allowed” sign up on your storefront window.

And those are the best cases. RFRAs allow hospitals not to honor same-sex visitation rights, and doctors not to treat the children of lesbians.These are actual cases.

Is Pence just lying, then? Well, not quite, because of … the right-wing echo chamber.

No matter how many times Gov. Pence says this isn’t about gays and isn’t about discrimination, the people standing behind him when he signed it are a who’s-who of anti-gay social conservatives.

Indiana is an example of what can happen when the bad precedent is set that the nation ought to start considering corporations as people and bestowing them with the power to serve the public or not based on religious preferences and priorities. It’s nothing more than civil rights codified in reverse, with race as the basis for discrimination simply replaced with religion. And it was as unethical in 1950 as it is in 2015.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers in Indiana were apparently working on a “fix” to the religious freedom bill that, according to the Indianapolis Star,

does not authorize a provider — including businesses or individuals — to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods, or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, or military service.

The proposed language exempts churches or other nonprofit religious organizations — including affiliated schools — from the definition of “provider.”

The proposal was being “vetted” by Republicans in the state House and Senate, according to the newspaper. Micah Clark, with the American Family Association of Indiana, called the proposal a “water-down” (sic) version of the plan, while people who want the bill tossed out said it didn’t provide enough protections. Here is Katie Blair, with a group called Freedom Indiana:

We understand that lawmakers are working to ‘fix’ the Indiana RFRA that has done so much harm to Indiana over the past week, but we want to make it clear that we need full protection from discrimination against all LGBT Hoosiers across the state and a guarantee that this RFRA cannot be used to undermine any nondiscrimination protections. According to current media reports, the proposal being considered falls far short of these principles, leaving the door wide open for discrimination.”

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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