Religious Freedom Testimony

As Christians, we live in a fallen world and deciding how best to navigate that reality and live out our convictions, is one of our greatest challenges.  That task is made harder by an administrative state that continues to push into every dimension of our lives.

Yesterday I took part in testimony at the Indiana Senate regarding a bill that would seek to safeguard the religious freedom of institutions like ours.  Let me explain why I testified.

IWU, like all religious institutions in our state, faces a constantly increasing gauntlet of regulations and administrative actions from local governments, from the state, and from the federal government.  The bill discussed yesterday in the Indiana Senate is an early version and may change (hopefully it will be amended to have even greater protections for religious freedom). The reason it may be helpful is that it seeks to provide strong and reasonable religious freedom protections for the Christian schools, social service agencies, adoption agencies, churches, and universities of our state.

As it stands, the bill gives religious organizations assurances about how to proceed in a world where the courts and private litigation have created considerable risk.  In many instances, when a state legislates and includes exemptions and a court later imposes a new civil right, the state that legislated has more protections than its sister states who waited–precisely because it included protections for religion in its positive law.

It is not inconceivable that the courts will force a sexual orientation nondiscrimination regime on our state.  But the very real possibility that they might means that there is prudential value in setting the terms of that legislation.

Religious exemptions in state laws also give faith communities protections that municipalities have not given.  Nearly 40% of Hoosiers live under a checkerboard of local ordinances that already give civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community without granting religious freedom protections.  The bill put forward in the Senate would bring those ordinances into line with any state protections, including religious freedom protections.

My understanding from the hearing is that this measure would give unprecedented protection to small businesses open to the public to refuse to do wedding services when doing so violates a religious conviction.  No other state has done that in its public accommodations law.   This law would have protected our IWU alumna who was sued because her conscience would not let her provide photography for a gay union ceremony.  Where conflicts do arise the bill would provide protections against frivolous or unfounded accusations of discrimination.

The bill would align Indiana law with federal law by allowing religious organizations to contract with the state without having to abandon or deny their sincerely held religious convictions.  This is a crucial provision for any religious institution that contracts with the state, including private Christian schools whose students benefit from school vouchers.

As president of a Christian university owned by a church that holds very traditional views on sexuality and marriage I find that we are increasingly under pressure from legal, regulatory, and administrative actions that threaten our identity and  our values.

We serve a diverse student body with respect and good will.  We serve all of our students with the love Christ as we provide a high quality university education. There does not appear to be any perfect way to create the legal space we need to remain true to the values and convictions that shape our identity while respecting those who disagree with us.  Nevertheless, I believe it is imperative for us to do whatever we can today to provide safeguards for the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed for generations.