Freedom of Religion in Indiana and Rhode Island


At the national level, Americans are being led to ignore any number of critical and pressing issues through a media-and-activist-driven condemnation of a religious freedom statute just passed into law in Indiana.  The hysteria has reached the point that companies that freely do business in communist China are boycotting Indiana, and Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has implemented a travel ban to Indiana, despite the fact that his own state is on the list of those with such laws.

Rhode Island is also on the list, on the strength of Rhode Island law 42-80.1, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993.  Arguably, Rhode Island’s law is stronger than Indiana’s.  Here’s the operative language in Indiana’s statute:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

(b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Here’s Rhode Island’s language, for comparison:

(a) Except as provided for in subsection (b), a governmental authority may not restrict a person’s free exercise of religion.

(b) A governmental authority may restrict a person’s free exercise of religion only if:

(1) The restriction is in the form of a rule of general applicability, and does not intentionally discriminate against religion, or among religions; and

(2) The governmental authority proves that application of the restriction to the person is essential to further a compelling governmental interest, and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

In Indiana, religious people only have protection if the government’s restriction is “substantial,” and the government can impose even “substantial” burdens if it can “demonstrate” that it will “further[] a compelling governmental interest.”  In Rhode Island, the government is not allowed to restrict the “free exercise of religion” at all, substantially or otherwise, unless it can “prove” that the restriction is “essential to further[ing] a compelling governmental interest.”

These may be shades of nuance, but given that the language is similar, with slightly more edge in Rhode Island:  Is anybody aware of any Rhode Island cases in the last 22 years in which (A) this law has been cited and (B) in which it has won a case in a way that could reasonably be seen as permitting discrimination?

  • Greg

    Let’s face it. Division is what the left does best and has done so superbly for the past 50-years. It is part of their divide and conquer strategy. Unfortunately, Joe Q public has no idea that it is happening. They suffer in silence unaware of the daily assault upon their liberty.

  • Warrington Faust

    ” Is anybody aware of any Rhode Island cases ” No, but there is a substantially similar federal law which has been raised as a defense against inaction by the justice dept. (Sorry, I heard the citation on the radio today and did not note it).

    Of course, a “compelling governmenatl interest” is a matter of opinion, liklly to vary over time. 40 years ago, who would have dreamed that SSM would be a compelling governmental interest?

  • George from Warwick

    What I don’t understand is why these Laws are necessary

    It is one thing if the owner of Chick·Fil·A wants to keep his stores closed on Sundays so everyone can go to church (( since nobody can force a business to have specific operating hours ))

    But if a florist doesn’t want to provide flowers for a gay wedding, there are plenty of other florists who will

    Besides, what kind of loser business·person is that discriminatory florist anyways ??

    I was raised Roman Catholic, and the Ku Klux Klan persecuted RC’s almost as much as they did blacks. But if two Klans·men walked into my florist shop and wanted a wedding, I would sell them as many flowers as they would pay for

    If I refused on religious grounds, I would have nobody but myself to blame for going out of business down the road

    • Max

      Good point George and why would a gay couple want to force a florist or baker to supply their product in the first place if they thought they were being discriminated against?

  • Mike678

    This is little more than the left’s..and their media allies…attempt to make the 2016 elections about social issues rather than economic.