Catholics Respond to Indiana's Controversial RFRA Law

Gov. Mike Pence signing Indiana’s “right to discriminate” law, surrounded by religious leaders

In the days since Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), reactions to this “right to discriminate” law and similar bills have captured national attention. Below, Bondings 2.0 summarizes Catholic responses with links provided for further reading.

While initially calling for dialogue and mutual respect, Indiana’s five bishops clarified their position in a second statement about the changes to RFRA. These changes, which added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes when it comes to spheres like housing and employment, make the bishops wonder that the revised law “may undermine religious freedom.” It is worth noting that Indiana’s bishops endorsed the original RFRA bill in February.

Weighing in during morning shows on Easter Sunday, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Donald Wuerl of Washington both advocated for “right to discriminate” laws, reports The Washington Post.

Speaking on Meet the Press, Dolan said religious believers did not make religious freedom an issue, but he appreciated Indiana Governor Mike Pence for signing the law and protecting the rights of religious communities. He continued:

” ‘It’s tough to balance religious conviction. But it’s easier to ignore religious freedom than it is today the more popular issues…I just wish we could do that in a temperate, civil way instead of screaming at each other.’ “

Cardinal Wuerl, appearing on Fox News Sunday, said “different measuring rods” were used for what counts as discrimination. Likely speaking to recent developments in the District of Columbia, the cardinal added:

” ‘Why would it be discrimination for a Catholic university to say, “We’re not going to allow a gay rights or an abortion rights group have their program on our campus,’ and it not be discrimination for that group to insist that the Catholic school change its teaching?’ “

Archbishops William Lori of Baltimore and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia attacked the “acrimony and lies” they believe characterizes those criticizing Indiana’s originally-worded law. In a joint piece with Southern Baptist leaders published by an anti-gay organization, the archbishops lashed out at those who claim religiously motivated opposition to marriage equality is bigoted or discriminatory.

In an editorial, the National Catholic Reporter criticized the original law while admitting that they generally support RFRA laws. However, the newspaper’s reservations in the Indiana case centered around extending individual protections to corporations. Last year’s Hobby Lobby decision has made them rightfully concerned. The editors continued:

“The trouble with the Indiana religious freedom law is in how it was conceived. With a ballot initiative that would outlaw same-sex marriage stalled in the Legislature, Republican representatives and Pence, winking and nodding the whole time to opponents of marriage equality, passed the RFRA legislation thinking it would cost them nothing while at the same time bolster support from so-called values voters. They clearly misjudged this cynical political ploy. Instead of a sop to appease conservative voters, they tossed a grenade into the business community.”

The University of Notre Dame has not commented yet on the Indiana law, but last fall announced it would extend employment benefits to same-sex partners and has been implementing an LGBTQ pastoral plan since 2012. However, Sherman Alexie, a writer and filmmaker, cancelled a scheduled appearance at the University until Indiana has full protections for LGBT people.

Meanwhile, a more positive response came from Dan Eisner, the president of Indianapolis’ Marian University. In a statement reported by WTHR 13, Eisner said the school supported religious liberty, but added:

“We also believe in the dignity and civil rights of every person regardless of race, religion, age, disability, ethnic heritage or sexual orientation. We support the action called for by the CEOs of nine major Indiana corporations asking the governor and the legislature to ‘make it clear that Indiana is the welcoming state we all believe it to be’ and to ‘take immediate action to ensure that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will not sanction or encourage discrimination against any residents or visitors to our state by anyone’….As we enter Holy Week and the Easter season, let’s do everything in our power to affirm the values of religious freedom and civil rights for all.”

For Bondings 2.0‘s previous post on the Indiana controversy, click here, and for our coverage of religious liberty related issues related to the Catholic Church, check out the “Politics & Human Rights” category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    The Catholic hierarchy make a mockery of Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion. If we use their measuring stick, then we can also say we will not support the church financially, etc. I don’t want to be accused of supporting pedophiles!

  2. Rev. Raymond Maher
    Rev. Raymond Maher says:

    Of the five women in the photo, five are wearing white veils, which signifies NOVICE. One has no veil at all, probably a POSTULANT (pre-novice). The one with the black veil would be a vowed nun. The two men in habits also appear to be Franciscans. But what exactly makes them all “religious leaders?”

    • Roncalli
      Roncalli says:

      The Franciscan group they are associated with- Franciscan brothers minor—- they are NOT in any way connected to any of the main branches of the Franciscan order. They are only a diocesan approved order in Indiana. The Franciscans I talked to are very annoyed by this photograph.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        “Public religious figures”? Perhaps within the Governor’s own subjective definition, which is clearly based upon expedient political opportunism and potential exploitation — but not within any sane and objective definition. If he had a bishop or two — or a Cardinal — appearing in his photo op, then we might have something substantial to critique. But this whole caper was a political sham and a scam — and the fact that he retreated from it, under massive public pressure, seems to indicate that even HE knew he was making presentations in bad faith.


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  1. […] question of religious freedom has been a hot-button issue this past spring, fueled by the Indiana debacle, and the fact that close to thirty other states are considering numerous religious freedom bills, […]

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