Defeating discrimination: take responsibility and act

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When you think of Indiana, what comes into your mind? Corn fields? NASCAR? Country music? NCAA basketball? Stereotypes aside, Indiana has been the center for a lot of controversy lately as a new bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was just passed through the state legislature.
It may sound harmless, but this bill has far-reaching implications that extend beyond the realm of protecting religion into discriminating against specific groups of people, most notably members of the LGBTQ community.
The bill states that “a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion,” and defines a burden as “an action that directly or indirectly compels a person to take an action that is contrary to the person’s exercise of religion.”
Therefore, one of the things the bill implies is that it would be legal for a bakery, for example, to deny a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake, or a clothing company to deny its employees health insurance coverage for birth control on the grounds that it would be against its religion.
Many people see this bill as a means for making discrimination fundamentally based in conservative Christian beliefs legal, whether or not the text of the law specifically conveys this. The backlash has been intense, ranging from political officials such as our own governor Jay Inslee banning official state travel to Indiana to protests across the country.
Openly gay Apple CEO Tim Cook said that “these bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”
But even as the controversy in Indiana is underway, the state of Utah is working to implement the policies that it established when it passed a bill now known as the “Utah compromise” in March. Remarkable because the bill “ban[ned] discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” and was passed by a majority Republican legislature in a heavily conservative, Mormon state, it’s essentially the opposite of the bill passed by Indiana.
Most high school students would wonder at this point, why does this apply to me at all? Why should I care about any of this? Well, the truth is that whether or not you live in Indiana or Utah or consider yourself a member of the LGBTQ community, these current events pertain to defining and shaping how our government interacts with us when it comes to our fundamental constitutional rights to both practice religion and be free from discrimination.
While the Utah bill represents progress, both the Press Perspective and many people in our country clearly see Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act as “turn[ing] back the clock on progress,” as Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy tweeted.
So even if you’re too young to vote now, as U.S. citizens we all have a civic responsibility to understand what’s happening in our country and to stand up for our values and each other, whether it’s at the polls, in a protest march, or in defending someone at school who’s getting bullied for being gay or transgender.
No matter your religious preference, we can all agree that no one deserves to feel discriminated against simply because of who he or she is. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or in ten years, someday we will all feel the effects of the choices our government representatives make during this period of change when it comes to gay and lesbian rights.
So accept your responsibility, and make a stand for freedom in America now.