By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Do you recall the “Indiana Jones” movies from the 1980’s? It featured that intrepid hero played by Harrison Ford who like a later day Superman fought for “truth, justice and the American way,” albeit without super human powers. Enter Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
A week ago there were a dozen potential Republican candidates for its party’s presidential nomination in 2016. This week there are eleven. Exit Governor Pence. It seems that Mike Pence forgot that famous old maxim… “never discuss religion and politics in mixed company.” That lapse in memory and judgment probably cost him his presidential ambitions.
You see, Governor Pence was the driving force behind legislation that was enacted one week ago in Indiana called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Supporters of the measure crowed that the law would allow Christian vendors in Indiana the right to refuse to provide services to same sex couples, or for that matter gay or lesbian individuals and probably others. This discrimination under the guise of exercising religious beliefs and liberties was pushed for and touted by the Tea Party and other extreme conservative groups.
Governor Pence strenuously supported this law until he became the center of a political blowback against his home state and the object of ridicule by network and national commentators. The governors of New York and Connecticut and the Mayor of Seattle even went so far as to say that they intended to ban official travel to Indiana. Now Governor Pence says that he wants the Indiana legislature to clarify that religious freedom does not include lawful discrimination against anybody.
Well, that is nice, but then what was the point of their legislation to begin with? Just who was Governor Pence trying to protect, and against whom? Was this just an April Fool’s joke?
While most places in this country, led by New York State, have been passing laws that make it clear that discrimination against persons for any reason having to do with their race, religion, cultural background or sexual orientation is illegal, Indiana tried to muddy their waters by opening the door to legal discrimination based on whether a person’s sexual orientation offended some other persons beliefs.
To be clear, no government can legislate people to love one another, or even respect each other. But neither should a government try to pass laws allowing personal prejudices to interfere with the civil rights that all Americans should enjoy without reservation or qualification.
Governor Mike Pence in promoting and defending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, only to back down in the face of national outrage, certainly was no profile in courage. In so doing he lost prestige with the right wing conservatives and forfeited support from mainstream republicans.
The cinematic Indiana Jones fought to protect civilization and uphold justice. Indiana Mike should have watched the movies.