Indiana News

Experts: ‘Wait and see’ how RFRA impacts court cases

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – After months of controversy, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has gone into effect.

Because of the controversy surrounding the RFRA, there has been lots of confusion about its true meaning. Many have asked if it can allow for discrimination.

The language of RFRA keeps the government from burdening a person’s ability to practice religion.

“The over-arching rationale is about where the burden of proof lies in a case in which someone claims that their religious freedom has been infringed upon, or they’ve been required to do something that is a struggle for them, distasteful for them or is unacceptable for them because of their religion,” said James McGrath, a religion professor at Butler University.

Experts told 24-Hour News 8 that person could be anyone – for example, the customer of a business or the owner of a business. The law, for instance, could protect a worker whose employer was trying to force them to dress a certain way that violated the worker’s religious beliefs. For a business owner, it’s possible RFRA could protect the owner from having to sell products or a service that goes against their beliefs.


But the law is actually just giving direction to the courts. If someone wants to use RFRA as a defense, they’ll have to take the matter to court.

“I think there is a large extent though where we’re just going to have to wait and see how this plays out, we’re going to have to wait and see happens. The legislation invites court cases. It basically says if you are in this situation you can bring a complaint, you can bring a lawsuit against someone else against another entity. Until that happens, it’s hard to say how this is going to play out,” said McGrath.

Experts said before anyone can truly see RFRA’s impact, we’ll have to wait and see how attorneys argue the cases and what judges decide.

Many people worried the law would allow religious business owners to deny service to same-sex couples, citing their beliefs. The so-called “RFRA fix” said people can’t refuse to serve anyone based on gender identity or sexual orientation. But experts said that “fix” only applies in communities, like Bloomington or Indianapolis, that have a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. There isn’t a statewide protection for gays and lesbians.

“An additional factor that wasn’t there when the legislation was passed, was the Supreme Court has made a decision about same-sex marriage on the national level. And that inevitably will have an impact on how things develop at the state level,” said McGrath.

Now that gay marriage is legal nationwide, some wonder if that will change how courts interpret RFRA cases involving gay couples or if there will soon be a statewide discrimination ban for the LBGT community.