By any other name, discrimination is discrimination

By Karen Ford

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of Indiana goes into effect Wednesday, July 1 after months of protest from Hoosiers across the state. The original bill was amended in April because it supported discrimination against members of the LGBT community.

Indiana legislators have maintained their bill is based on the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The intent of that bill was to “ensure interests in religious freedom are protected.” The 1993 bill was proposed to complement the religious freedom already guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

That bill was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, which ruled the bill is not a proper exercise of Congress’s enforcement power. The bill is, however, still enforced with regard to the federal government. Since 1993, 20 other states have passed similar bills regarding religious freedom.

What made the Indiana bill so contentious was that it was used by businesses to justify discrimination. The alleged intent of the bill was to preserve religious freedom on an individual basis. This is a very important distinction as the bill has been used by various businesses to deny services to members of the LGBT community.

This discrimination has been most visible and thus the LGBT community has been front and center in demanding amendment of the RFRA or abolishing it altogether.

Companies are citing the law to obfuscate reproductive choices to their employees. Thus if the company’s president is Catholic, he can deny an employee birth control in company-sponsored insurance plans. A pharmacist using the same law can refuse a woman the morning-after pill or a young man can be denied a purchase of condoms based on the pharmacist’s religious principles.

This law, as it has been interpreted, can be used to deny same-sex couples the privilege of adoption. Conflicts over gay rights and reproductive rights have been polarizing nationwide.

There are other implications, however, that this law may trigger that have not been part of the discussion. For some religious zealots, the RFRA can be used in much the same way as Jim Crow laws were 50 years ago.

Some fundamentalist sects of the Mormon Church still believe Blacks, Jews, Native Americans and other minorities are not pure or less than human. By definition of this law, they can refuse service to any members of those groups as was done to people at the segregated lunch counters of the South.

What is at issue is very similar to the egregious Citizens United ruling that corporations are people. People direct and guide corporations. People may espouse religious beliefs but companies by their very nature do not.

Only companies that are part of religious organizations can justifiably cite the RFRA for its decisions. Although those in support of the act state that individuals bring their religious views with them to the workplace, it is also true that said individuals often set aside their religious beliefs when it comes to corporate behavior or corporate profit.

Isn’t it about time for us to stop claiming God when it suits our purpose or offends our sensibilities? Isn’t it time for morality and common sense to take precedence?

No one is advocating stopping religious freedom. No one is saying businesses don’t have the right to deny goods or services to certain clientele. Claiming that God, however, doesn’t want me to serve you because I don’t condone your lifestyle or believe in birth control or like your skin color is one big step too far.

The RFRA has nothing to do with God but has everything to do with those who practice a selective form of religion. Hypocrisy by any other name, be it RFRA or Citizens United, is still hypocrisy. We all lose when we worship at that altar.

(Karen Ford is the author of “Thoughts of a Fried Chicken Watermelon Women” available for sale on or

Writers Biline:

Discrimination is discrimination

Writer Name : Karen Ford

Writer Bio : Karen Ford is the author of Thoughts of a Fried Chicken Watermelon Woman (Total Recall Press 2014) and the blog, Caviar & Grits (www.caviar& Ford recently served as 3rd Vice President of the National Writers Union, UAW 1981, the only trade union for freelance writers. The union is comprised of over 1400 writers in every genre. As a freelance journalist for over 20 years, Ford has written for a number of local, national and international publications including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Parent magazine, the Citizen Newspapers, Screen Magazine and Lutheran Woman Today. Her corporate clients have included the University of Illinois, the Chicago Labor Education Project, the Illinois Business Development Authority and the Women in Business Yellow Pages. She has written political ad copy for several local and county candidates and co-authored the book Get That Cutie in Commercials. Ford has conducted seminars and workshops for the Regina Polk Women’s Labor Leadership Conference, the Midwest School for Women Workers, the Allied Media Conference and the U.S. Social Forums in Atlanta and Detroit. She is a frequent panelist at labor conferences speaking on issues pertaining to organized labor and religion, leadership roles for women and writing as a freelancer. In March 2011 Ford was awarded an International Women’s Award by the Women’s Information Network for her community and labor related work. She received special recognition for participating in the Labor in the Pulpit program in 2006, 2008 and 2012. In 2004, Coalition of Labor Union Women presented Ford with the Florence Criley Award for her contributions to the advancement of women in the labor movement. The Building Bridges Project of the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Workers Issues also presented her with a Personal Contribution Award in 2005. Ford attended the United Nations Non-governmental Organization Conference in 2006 and completed study abroad program in 2007 on culture in the West African countries of Ghana, Benin and Togo. In 2010, she completed a study abroad program in Kenya working with international NGO’s and in 2011 she completed a study abroad program on leadership in Ireland. Karen Ford received her BA with a focus in political science and her MS in public service management from DePaul University. She has a certificate in union organizing from the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute and a certificate in teaching community college from the Encore Organization of Harold Washington College. Ford is married with four children and loves to read, dance, cook and travel in her spare time.

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