So Much for Hoosier Hospitality

On Monday, March 16, 2015, the Indiana House Committee heard testimony from both sides in support and in opposition to HB 101 (RFRA -- Religious Freedom Restoration Act).* This bill was introduced "to prevent laws that substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion." I was not able to attend the hearing, but I do know that the gallery, halls and House chamber were packed with supporters of the bill who wore green, and opponents of the bill wearing red. Christmas colors. But whereas Christmas is about love and acceptance, those who support RFRA most certainly do not appear to embrace anyone different from themselves.

RFRA sends the message that Indiana is not a welcoming state. The bill is arbitrary and no one is exempt. However, minorities will be the most at-risk group. Imagine how you would feel if you were refused healthcare because the provider you went to belongs to a religion that doesn't approve of the your skin color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc.. Imagine how a young gay student would feel if he was turned away from a school counselor because her religion teaches that LGBT people are an abomination. Imagine how you would feel if your house caught on fire and one of the firemen refused to do his job because the you belonged to a group that his religion forbade him to come in contact with.

If RFRA passes, it would compromise the mental and physical health of the minority groups targeted by its passage. LGBT people are already at risk for depression and anxiety due to societal prejudice in a heterosexual world. This phenomenon, called "minority stress," causes negative mental and physical health effects. Other minority groups would be at risk as well. I don't know if white, heterosexual people can imagine what it's like to suffer from fear, anxiety and shame caused by the daily fear of encountering discrimination and harassment. If RFRA passes, the anxiety and fear will only increase. All minority groups will be at risk.

When I moved to Indiana 20 years ago, I was told that the Hoosier State is a wonderful place to raise children, and that it was a very welcoming state. If RFRA passes, it will turn back the clock and show the nation and the world that Indiana does not embrace all who come here. It will send the message that you can live here, but you may not be able to shop at stores, receive healthcare, eat at a certain restaurant, etc., because some Hoosiers believe that their religion tells them to shun you. So much for Hoosier hospitality.