Pence and Bosma just can't commit


When it became clear there was a chance a bill offering some sort-of, maybe, kind-of civil rights protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual Hoosiers might emerge from the Indiana Senate and head to the House of Representatives, House Speaker Brian Bosma had a quick response.

"I have yet to talk to someone who thinks the bill is a good idea," said Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis.

That probably says more how insulated from the real world Bosma and most lawmakers are than it does anything else, but then he went on.

"It is hard to balance freedom of conscience and discrimination issues," he said.

His statement echoed the "aw, shucks, this is too bad, but we're in a box here" position that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence staked out in his State of the State address a few days ago.

Pence, also a Republican, argued that his hands were tied because the state constitution establishes an absolute right of religious freedom.

"Our Supreme Court has made it clear that our constitution protects both belief and practice," the governor said at his most sonorous. Really?

The Bible endorses the practice of human slavery in several places.

Leviticus 25.44 is the best example. It says we're allowed to own slaves if we buy them from neighboring countries. If we Hoosiers were to permit that particular religious practice, we'd find ourselves encountering some problems.

The first is that we can assume that the flow of tourist traffic – and dollars – from Canada and Mexico would slow to a trickle. Who would want to come to a place where the residents think they're honoring both God and the constitution by shackling other human beings?

The second is that we'd have to think of something other than the "Great Emancipator" to call Abraham Lincoln in the textbooks.

And the third is that, if we were to grant that religious practice always should be exempted from civil law, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's energetic and admirable campaign to crack down on human trafficking would run into a brick wall. Any human trafficker Zoeller wanted to punish could present a "religious freedom" defense and the court would have no choice but to honor the constitution and let exploiters of fellow human beings go free.

The absurdity here is meant to be instructive.

No one with an ounce of sanity or any kind of moral code now believes that human beings should be allowed to own other human beings.

Despite what the Bible says.

That's the point.

While we can and must create broad protections for citizens to honor and exercise their religious beliefs, there is no blanket exemption for people of faith to refuse to follow the law.

And there shouldn't be.

If such an exemption were in place, Quakers and other conscientious objectors on religious grounds would be entitled to take a 15- to 20-percent discount when it comes time to pay their federal taxes and not pay the portion of the budget devoted to military and defense spending.

In many ways, Mike Pence, Brian Bosma and so many other lawmakers in this state have wandered into a trap they built themselves. The bonds about which they complain are ones they knotted themselves.

The balancing act between society's needs and individual imperatives is nothing new.

Beliefs must be protected. If there are people who still think slavery would be a good idea, they are free to think what they wish. There's nothing we can or should do about that.

But if they try to put that belief into practice and proclaim ownership over other human beings – well, we can and should do something about that.

The same goes for the politics of sexual orientation and gender. If there are people who believe homosexuality is a sin, they are free to believe that – and there's nothing we can or should do about it.

But if they try to put that belief into practice in the public sphere and deny other people their rights as citizens – well, there's something we can and should do about that.

There's even a part of the Bible that addresses this question.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

The speaker, as I recall, was a figure of some importance in the Christian faith.