Don't Treat On Me flag at gay rights rally

The problem with religious freedom laws (such as Indiana passed recently) is not that they may allow private parties to discriminate against homosexuals; it is that they legally discriminate against nonreligious people. They carve out special legal status for religious people and thus violate the basic principle that government morally must treat all individuals equally under the law.

That said, the proper solution is not to repeal protections of the rights of religious people; it is to extend the same protections to all individuals via generalized law. Consider an analogy. If a government taxed atheists at a higher rate than it taxed religious believers, that would be horribly unjust, but it would also be unjust to tax all believers at the higher rate. The proper solution would be for government to treat all people equally by lightening the tax burden of atheists, thereby moving in the direction of fully respecting people’s rights to their wealth. Likewise, regarding religious freedom laws, the proper solution is not for government to violate the rights of religious people as severely as it violates the rights of everyone else; it is for government to stop violating the rights of everyone else, too.

With religious freedom laws, does government protect the rights of religious people to a greater extent than it protects the rights of nonreligious people? Consider two major aspects of religious freedom laws, starting with potential discrimination by private parties against gays.

Critics of Indiana’s law as originally passed “feared [it] would have allowed discrimination [by private parties] against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” as USA Today reports. (Cato’s Roger Pilon agrees that’s what the law would do, although apparently the measure merely explicitly stated what broader law already implicitly allowed.) In response to widespread criticism, Indiana lawmakers agreed to “fix” the law by nullifying this aspect of it; “Indiana Republicans . . . announced sexual orientation and gender identity will be explicitly protected in the new law” as amended, USA Today reports. Governor Mike Pence signed this “fix” on April 2. . . .

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