An Open Letter to Indiana Governor Mike Pence

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 2.34.41 PMThe Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a name that makes me throw up a little bit every time I hear it) has been passed by both chambers of our state legislature and now sits on the desk of our governor for his signature. His veto is the only way for Indiana not to make a name for itself for legalizing discrimination in the public sphere. It’s incredibly unlikely, but you never know. Occasionally, public leaders surprise us with their moral courage…

Dear Governor Pence,

Despite the political costs that a veto would incur, I invite you to join the winning side and veto RFRA. Even though signing the bill seems like the smart political move today, tomorrow the celebrations of the extremists in your party will have ended and the hangover of moral regret will settle in. Your name will settle right alongside leaders like George Wallace in the history books as so-called “leaders” who traded what was morally right for what was politically expedient in the grossest way: by capitalizing on fear and bigotry at the expense of a minority, all the while claiming to stand on religious ground.

This is a dream situation for a power-hungry politician: exploitation of the minority dressed up to look like protection against some nebulous threat. This is the exact opposite of courageous leadership.

And, with sad irony, all this is happening exactly fifty years after the rally in Montgomery at the end of the march from Selma. We pat ourselves on the back for that progress at the same time your signature on RFRA will legalize discrimination in Indiana. Shame on us.

Religious freedom in America always comes with limits, and discrimination in the public sphere is one of them. When our nation decided to desegregate water fountains, buses, and lunch counters, when our nation decided to allow all people to vote as equals, when our nation decided to decriminalize interracial marriages, we didn’t leave it up to local communities to decide whether they believed in desegregation. We didn’t allow counties or towns or states to choose whether they would serve blacks, because we declared discrimination un-American. We didn’t leave room for objection on religious grounds at any level; if you were a public business or service, you would serve all. Individuals and whole communities disagreed, saying they were following their religious beliefs, claiming discrimination was their right.

But if America was to be the land of equality we aspired to be, equality must apply everywhere, even if equality was against some citizens’ religion. As a nation, we chose our common value of equality for all people over some people’s ‘religious’ value of discrimination. Those who objected to equality lost their right to discriminate.

RFRA is regressive, and history will judge this signature, Governor Pence. Do you have the stuff to be a courageous leader? Show us by joining the winning side. Veto RFRA.

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