Briefly summarized: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Sabina Unni, Assistant Opinion Editor

It was a quiet night in Bohemia, but as per usual, Roman Catholic and Protestant tensions were at an all-time high. Instead of subtweeting about their issues, Roman Catholic officials closed Protestant chapels down, thus violating the Letter of Majesty set by Emperor Rudolf II. Everyone was #TeamRudolf, because religious freedom is pretty chill. These priests were not prepared for what the defensors, individuals set in place to safeguard Protestants, were about to do. They called an assembly of Protestants at Prague, where William Slavata and Jaroslav Martinic were found guilty of violating the Letter of the Majesty. They were thus thrown, as well as their secretary, Fabricius, out of the windows of the Prague Castle.

When religious freedoms were infringed upon in 1617, the response was to throw imperial regents out of a window into something slightly smellier. The issues of religious freedoms seemed a little more cut and dry—are chapels allowed to exist? Should each German region have a different religion?

It seems less black and white now. Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week, which proponents say will prevent the government from infringing upon people’s religious freedoms. This law would ensure that the government cannot “substantially burden” one’s abilities to follow religious beliefs. Sounds good, right? However, it would allow business owners to discriminate, legally, against LGBTQ individuals.

It’s not just Indiana. States all across the country, including North Carolina, Nevada, and Texas, have proposed similar legislation. The introduction of such an act of legislation has clearly led to intense controversy.

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a professor of law from the University of Illinois, said, “What’s kind of gone south with the RFRAs is the RFRAs are really trying to do real work for religious minorities.”

Wilson doesn’t believe there’s an intrinsic problem with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, but rather, with the direction they have taken and the inherent biases of the people who are writing them.

On the other hand, Richard Carnett, a professor of law from the University of Notre Dame, stated that,  “It’s not right to see RFRA as a response or a reaction to what’s happening with sexual orientation discrimination or marriage, it is bigger than that.”

Carnett believes making the law about LGBTQ rights is not truly what the law is about, that is about religious freedoms.

It’s not really up to me to decide, but what I do know is that these tensions and issues won’t go away if we play dumb and claim that LGBTQ people are not going to be harmed by these acts. I’m not making a value judgment on this act, but it’s not hard to acknowledge that this act is targeting a specific group of people. There are two tensions at play here, religious rights and civil rights. As a society, we have to determine which is valued more. Should a bakery be able to deny LGBTQ people service? Should a bakery be forced to service LGBTQ people?