Freedom of belief or discrimination?: Indiana, Arkansas measures spotlight RFRA

Religious freedom has become the broad catchphrase at the heart of today’s biggest culture war issues, ranging from same-sex marriage and gay rights generally to the question of how to accommodate diverse faiths as well as nonbelievers in an increasingly pluralistic American society.

Look no further than the current dust-up over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a similar measure approved Tuesday (March 31) by Arkansas lawmakers. Although Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declares that his state’s law will not permit businesses to reject LGBTQ customers because of the owners’ religious beliefs, some businesses and corporations are threatening to boycott the Hoosier state. With the controversy escalating, he now says he wants changes in the legislation by week’s end, saying,”We want to make it clear that Indiana’s open for business.”

Concerns about the impact of RFRA measures on the LGBTQ community are hardly the only focus of religious liberty disputes, however. Witness also recent debates, for example, on whether a community can deny a building permit to a mosque, or what a military chaplain can say about faith without infringing on the rights of nonbelievers. Religious liberty concerns also were central to the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case decided last summer by the Supreme Court.

This edition of ReligionLink is a source guide on religious freedom in the U.S. and provides background and resources for reporters covering all of these controversial topics in light of RFRA debates in Indiana, Arkansas and other states.


  • UPDATE April 3, 2015: Both Indiana and Arkansas revised their versions of the bill to prevent discrimination against homosexuals.
  • Read the text of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in November 1993.
  • Read the text of Indiana’s religious freedom law, posted on The Indianapolis Star‘s website.
  • Read the text of Arkansas’ religious freedom law.

Critics note that there are two main differences between the Indiana law and the federal law. First, Indiana’s explicitly allows for-profit businesses a right to “the free exercise of religion.” Second, because Indiana does not have a law specifically protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, critics say the state’s RFRA law would permit discrimination against LGBTQ people on the basis of religious belief.




  • As of March 30, 2015, 20 states had adopted a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. If Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs the new legislation in his state, Arkansas will become the 21st state to do so.

National sources

With a focus on religious freedom

  • American Religious Freedom Program

    The Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program works to counter what it says are misunderstandings by many Americans about the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses on religion. The clauses were meant to ensure a robust role for religion in the public sphere, not to relegate faith merely to a matter of private worship, program organizers say. Contact through Chandler Epp, Jennifer Sheran or Adrienne Young at DeMoss.

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State describes itself as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving church-state separation to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”

  • Douglas Laycock

    Douglas Laycock is a professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia and an authority on religious liberty. He is the author of several books and articles on law and religion and co-edited a collection of essays on same-sex marriage and religious freedom.

    Though he supports gay marriage, he has written that the Indiana law is unlikely to result in discrimination.


  • Center for Inquiry

    The Center for Inquiry works to foster a secular society devoted to humanist values and freedom of inquiry. Its public education programs focus on paranormal and fringe science claims; religion, ethics and society; and medicine and health. The center is based in Amherst, N.Y., and has branches throughout the U.S. and the world. Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO.

  • Robert A. Destro

    Robert A. Destro is a law professor and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in freedom of religion, constitutional law (separation of powers), international human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, bioethics, marriage law and civil rights.  Destro served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989.


  • Charles Haynes

    Charles C. Haynes is the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum Institute. He writes and speaks extensively on religious freedom and faith in public life, specializing in church-state conflict related to public schools.


    Haynes wrote a column about same-sex marriage and religious freedom that appeared March 22, 2014, in The (Pittsburg, Kan.) Morning Sun.

  • Daniel Mach

    Daniel Mach is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s program on freedom of religion and belief.

  • Thomas More Society

    The Thomas More Society is a Chicago-based not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty. For interview requests, contact Tom Ciesielka.

  • Alan Sears

    Alan Sears is president, CEO and general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance based in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose focus is defending religious liberty. The ADF sponsors the Day of Dialogue in schools around the country to “counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” It also supported the legislation that would have allowed Arizona business owners to deny services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

    Contact: 480-444-0020.
  • Jay Sekulow

    Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.

  • Kelly Shackelford

    Kelly Shackelford is president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, a Texas law firm that works to preserve religious freedom and argued in support of the Bladensburg cross before the Supreme Court.

    The Liberty Institute issued a report in 2013 titled Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America. It cites nearly 1,200 reported incidents of religious bigotry in the United States, most of which occurred in the last decade.

With a focus on LGBT rights

  • Rose Saxe

    Rose Saxe is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Law School in New York and a staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender and AIDS Projects. She has worked on issues involving the intersection of civil rights for LGBT people and religious freedom and expression.


  • Andrew Abela

    Andrew Abela is dean of the School of Business and Economics and associate professor of marketing at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. Abela focuses his research on the integrity of the marketing process, including marketing ethics, Catholic social doctrine and internal communication. He is co-editor of A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights From Catholic Teaching, and in 2009 he received the Novak Award from the Acton Institute for “significant contributions to the study of the relationship between religion and economic liberty.” Abela has been quoted in the National Catholic RegisterThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.


  • Alan E. Brownstein

    Alan E. Brownstein is a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Davis. He is a nationally known expert on religious freedom issues and has written widely about religious land use issues and states’ rights.

  • James D. Cox

    James D. Cox is a professor of law at Duke University Law School in Durham, N.C.  He  is an expert on corporate law and filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting the government’s position in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga challenge to the contraception mandate. The brief argues, in part, that the religious values of shareholders do not pass through to the corporation itself and that such a finding would be contrary to established corporation law.


  • Cole Durham

    Cole Durham is Emeritus Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, where he held the Susa Young Gates University Professorship. He is founding Director of the Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. From its official organization on January 1, 2000, until May 1, 2016, Professor Durham was Director of the Center, which was organized to provide an intuitional base for long-term initiatives in the field of law and religion throughout the world.

  • Melissa Moschella

    Melissa Moschella is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. Her areas of expertise include religious freedom, marriage and sexual ethics, church-state issues and bioethics. Moschella is a frequent commentator to the media. See contributions she made in 2014 to The Washington Post and National Review, as well as appearances she made on EWTN News Nightly and Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


  • Neil Siegel

    Neil Siegel is a professor of law and political science and co-director of the Program in Public Law at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on constitutional law and theory, and the Supreme Court. Much of his recent work has been on the Affordable Care Act. He clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • C. Welton Gaddy

    The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is president of the Interfaith Alliance and author of numerous books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State. Gaddy serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La. The alliance is based in Washington, D.C.

    Contact: 202-238-3300, 202) 466-0567.

In the South

  • Kim Colby

    Kim Colby is senior counsel at the Christian Legal Society in Springfield, Virginia, and has worked at the society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom since 1981.

  • Derek H. Davis

    Derek H. Davis is dean of the College of Humanities and the Graduate School at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. He is the author of publications on church and state issues and on religious freedom.

  • Kathy Miller

    Kathy Miller is president of the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders based in Austin that advocates for “a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right,” according to its website.  Contact through communications director Dan Quinn.

  • Dan Quinn

    Dan Quinn is spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network in Austin, a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan alliance that includes more than 7,500 religious and community leaders concerned about the “growing social and political influence of religious political extremists.” The group has been at the forefront of trying to prevent religious conservatives from controlling the content in school textbooks in Texas.

  • Mathew D. Staver

    Mathew D. Staver is founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties education and legal defense organization in Orlando, Fla., that focuses on freedom of speech and religious freedom.

  • John W. Whitehead

    John W. Whitehead is president and founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit organization in Charlottesville, Va., that works to advance religious freedom through litigation, education and advocacy. Although the institute has a Christian doctrinal statement, its services are not limited to Christians.

In the Midwest

  • Scott C. Idleman

    Scott C. Idleman is a law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He specializes in church-state issues, including religious freedom and land use questions.

  • Lady Liberty League

    The Lady Liberty League is a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom and freedom from religious discrimination for pagans. Its founder and co-executive director is Selena Fox, and it is located in Barneveld, Wisconsin.

  • Thomas More Law Center

    The Thomas More Law Center is a law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians. Contact president and chief counsel Richard Thompson in Ann Arbor, Mich.

  • Vincent Phillip Muñoz

    Vincent Phillip Muñoz teaches religion and and public life at the University of Notre Dame. He focuses on the founders and religious freedom.

  • Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

    Winnifred Fallers Sullivan chairs the department of religious studies and is an affiliate professor of law at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is interested in the legal regulation of religion in modern pluralistic societies. She wrote The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Ask her to discuss the history of religious groups that are pressing for rights of religion over secularity, a movement she dates to the 1988 case Employment Division v. Smith.

In the West

  • Frederick Gedicks

    Frederick Gedicks is an expert on law and religion who teaches at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. He regularly writes amicus briefs, law review articles and columns on religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court.

  • Barbara A. McGraw

    Barbara A. McGraw is a professor of business administration at St. Mary’s College of California, in Moraga. She is the author of Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America and the co-editor of Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground, in which she argues that the freedom of conscience honored by the nation’s founders can be the “sacred ground” needed in a religiously pluralistic country.

  • North American Religious Liberty Association

    The North American Religious Liberty Association advocates a “broad interpretation” of the Free Exercise Clause and supports religious freedom. It is based in Simi Valley, Calif. Alvin Kibble is its president.

    Contact: 805-955-7675.

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