The Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Kiss. Photo by Callen Harty.

Kiss. Photo by Callen Harty.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”–1st amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Freedom of religion means that you have the right to practice whatever religion you choose (if you choose) and that the U. S. government will not impose any particular religion upon you. It does not mean that you have the right to discriminate against others you may disagree with, for religious reasons or otherwise. It does not mean that you have the right to impose your religious beliefs upon others; in fact, it specifically says that there will be no law establishing a particular religion. There is no need for any kind of “restoration of religious freedom” act in any state. Everything we need as a nation is right there in the first amendment.

Proponents of these laws will argue that forcing them to bake cakes for same-sex weddings or similar kinds of circumstances infringes upon their religious and moral beliefs and that their religious freedom needs to be protected. I call bullshit. If I come into your store and ask for a wedding cake for my gay wedding that does not impinge upon your religious freedom. You are still free to go to church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday and my business hasn’t harmed your free exercise of your religion in any way. Some would say that their religion considers homosexuality a sin and that baking that cake for me is in some way supporting that sinful lifestyle. I call bullshit again. I was raised in a Catholic household and I have countless Christian friends and all of them will tell you that according to their beliefs we are all sinners, that there are no human beings who are perfect and do not sin. So if you can’t serve me a cake for what you consider to be my sin then you can’t bake cookies for the adulterer or bread for the thief. You can’t make scones for the man who does not honor his father and mother or candies for the woman who takes God’s name in vain.

No matter how you spin it these acts like the one in Indiana are clearly a gateway to discrimination and nothing else. Even if that were not the intent of the authors of the bills you can bet that it will be the result and it won’t stop with discrimination against the LGBT community. I can imagine Muslims being refused service next, and then pagans, and on down the line. I can imagine store windows with signs listing what kinds of unbelievers are unwelcome. Now I don’t necessarily want to do business with a store owner that hates me that much anyway and have always done my best to put my dollars where my beliefs are. That is why I am happy to see so many companies talking about boycotting Indiana and other places that pass such legislation. Governor Pence can pretend all he wants that the bill is not about discrimination but about religious freedom, but look again at the first amendment. That provides all the protection that has ever been needed. The new law needs to be rescinded.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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