Indiana Insanity [Updated]

Other than a brief discussion here, we haven’t written about the firestorm over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yesterday Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, joined the chorus of denunciation: “‘I abhor the actions taken by the Legislature and governor of Indiana,’ Dayton told the Star Tribune.” Dayton, like a number of other governors, says he is considering a ban on official travel to Indiana. So Minnesota’s bureaucrats may no longer be able to take junkets to Terre Haute.

The hysterical reaction to Indiana’s law can only be described as insane. As we noted here, there is a federal RFRA that governs federal laws, 19 states have their own RFRAs, and ten other states have adopted the “strict scrutiny” standard of the Indiana statute by judicial opinion. Governor Dayton is perhaps unaware that Minnesota is one of those ten states. Hill-Murray Fed’n of Teachers v. Hill-Murray High School, 487 N.W.2d 857, 865 (Minn. 1992); State v. Hershberger, 462 N.W.2d 393, 398 (Minn. 1990).

Some on the left have argued that Indiana’s law is radically different from the federal statute that was passed almost unanimously and signed by President Bill Clinton, because Indiana’s law specifically provides that it applies to lawsuits where the state is not a party, i.e., to cases between private parties. Think Progress relied on this distinction in asserting that the statement that Indiana’s law is substantially the same as the federal statute is “the big lie.” Think Progress must not have known that four federal appellate circuits–the 2nd, 8th, 9th and D.C.–have held that the federal law applies to actions between private parties. Barack Obama’s Department of Justice has also taken this position, in Wheaton College v. Sebelius. (While this conclusion seems to me to be pretty obviously correct, two circuits, the 6th and 7th, have held that the federal law does not apply to actions where the government is not a party.)

The most basic fact about RFRAs, both federal and state, is that they are laws of such limited application that, even though they have been in existence for more than 20 years, the vast majority of citizens, until now, have been entirely unaware of their existence.

So the brouhaha over Indiana’s RFRA is entirely political. Already, the Left’s vicious attacks have begun to claim victims. Scott Ott describes the disgusting case of Memories Pizza, a tiny business owned by a Christian couple in a small town in Indiana. The owners of Memories Pizza were quietly minding their own business when a television reporter entered their restaurant and started asking them about gay marriage. As Ott puts it, “ABC-57 ‘went into small towns,’ as if embarking on a safari to aboriginal lands.”

Owner Crystal O’Connor says she’s in favor of [Indiana’s religious freedom law], noting that while anyone can eat in her family restaurant, if the business were asked to cater a gay wedding, they would not do it. It conflicts with their biblical beliefs. [The reporter’s] tweet mentions that the O’Connors have “never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.”

Has anyone ever catered a gay wedding with pizza? I doubt it. No matter: poor Crystal O’Connor was subjected to a campaign of worldwide vilification by gay supremacists. It was national news when Memories Pizza closed because of the torrent of threats and abuse.

Crystal O'Connor. Note the misleading caption.

Crystal O’Connor. Note the misleading caption.

Why has the Left decided to turn a non-story–state number 19 adopts a law substantially identical to one that passed the Senate 97-3–into a battlefield in the culture war? Liberals have decided that the social issues are winners for them, and one suspects that they are desperate to distract attention from the Obama administration’s economic and foreign policy failures, Hillary Clinton’s prevarications, and so on. If a few little people like Crystal O’Connor are destroyed in the process, so much the better. As a famous man once said, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

UPDATE: A happy ending, of sorts, for Memories Pizza. Crowdfunding by conservatives has raised over $100,000 for the beleaguered pizzeria. That’s good, but it isn’t a viable strategy to try to bail out every business that is attacked by the gay supremacists.

In less edifying news, Minneapolis’s fire department has canceled its planned participation in a conference in Indianapolis. No word on whether Indianapolis’s fire department has canceled any trips to Minneapolis, since Minnesota has the same legal standard for religious liberty as Indiana, imposed by court decision rather than legislation.

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