The State of Indiana is safe for Christianity. And it’s getting safer every day. This week, the Indiana Senate passed Senate Bill 127, which would allow faith-based recipients of state funds to hire employees based on religion. It would also allow those organizations to require employees to follow certain religious tenets. The bill does not use the word “Christianity” anywhere in it. However, it is commonly known that the legislation specifically enables a Christian university, Indiana Wesleyan, to engage in state contracts while continuing to safely require employees to practice the religious tenets of the school.
One exercise that is usually necessary when passing a new law, is the establishment that some sort of problem exists. In other words, if it cannot be made clear to the body that there is a problem, it usually is and definitely should be, difficult to impose any new “solution.” So what is the problem here?
Is it that Indiana Wesleyan, and it’s inability to win state contracts, is being unreasonably harmed economically by acting like a church and being treated like a church? Or is it the other “incident” related to the bill? That incident was the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was recently found liable for declining to renew a teacher’s contract after she underwent in-vitro fertilization treatments. The teacher sued the Diocese and won in December of 2014.
I have written about these things before so it should be no surprise what position I am about to take. Should the woman’s employment with the Diocese be conditioned one way or the other regarding her fertilization choice? Absolutely not. Not in this country any way. Should our government contract with any entity that discriminates openly on the basis of religion? Again, hell no. Sorry, I couldn’t help that one.
No surprises there. But there are two specific reasons why this bill is wrong to me.
First, the legislation is using a reference to Executive Order 13279 as the basis and scope of its authority. That Order, signed by President George W. Bush on December 12, 2002, basically served as his administration’s policy for partnering with faith-based organizations. Yes, the bill also references Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it uses the extent of either the Act OR the Executive Order as applicable. Presumably whichever suits the situation best.
Please Indiana, don’t pass laws referring to Executive Orders. Imagine the outrage in certain political circles if the legislature in Illinois passed a law codifying President Obama’s recent Executive Order on Immigration. Agree with him or not, an E.O. is a tool of one branch of government. A law is more than that.
Passing a state law that is defined by an E.O. is just wrong.
Second, I want to talk about the difference between “faith” and “religion.” We use the term “faith-based” because it is less discriminatory sounding than “religion-based.” The problem is that the terms are not synonymous. We also use “faith” as a term that is so much broader in scope than “religion” that it is difficult, if not impossible to discriminate against people using it as its basis.
The presence, nurturing and protection of faith within any culture is vital to its health. It is, however, clear in this regard that the legislature is specifically protecting a specific religion. Elevating the status of one religion, any religion, endangers others by definition. Making our country, and in this regard, our state a welcoming place for people of faith endangers no one.
The simple principles spelled out in the First Amendment successfully address the alleged problem in both of these alleged incidents just fine. No matter how unfortunate to the college or the Diocese. In other words, there is no proof of a problem, and therefore no reason to create a new law to solve it.
I found myself re-reading a book this week and came across one of my favorite passages: “True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith.” There is not a lot of humility practiced in politics these days. Come to think of it, I don’t know when there ever was. This bill is also a clear example of closed mindedness. And finally, having a little faith would really go a long a way on this one.
I don’t know where Senate Bill 127 will lead, but regardless of its fate, I have faith that the college, the Diocese and the teacher and her family are all going to be just fine. Have a little faith Indiana, and see what happens.