At the Four Freedoms monument in downtown Evansville are four pillars symbolizing basic freedoms in life. Freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from oppression, and of religion.
Religion is entering the spotlight once again.
Same-sex couples have been fighting to marry for years, and in October it became legal in Indiana. Now gay people in the Hoosier state could be facing another battle.
Indiana lawmakers pass the controversial “Religious Freedom” bill Monday that will allow businesses to reject serving same-sex couples.
“We’ve come a long way in our society of accepting people that might be a little different,” says President of Tri-State Alliance, an LGBT activist group, Wally Paynter.
The pillars at Four Freedoms stand as a testament to American values. But now Paynter and others feel those values being called into question.
“There is a phrase, ‘Hoosier hospitality,’ but now there’s a big asterisk, ‘does not apply to some,’” he says.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence says in a statement, “The legislation is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.”
There are 19 other states with a similar law, and supporters say the bill simply allows a choice.
But those against it say it’s legalizing discrimination.
Stephanie Young is a professor a USI who teaches classes about LGBT issues. She is an oponent concerned about the rights of customers.
“One thing I am curious about, is the use of religious rhetoric to potentially discriminate against certain individuals,” she says.
Paynter says, “it almost encourages discrimination, as long as you say the right words, that it’s based on religion.”
Further, Young and Paynter believe the bill creates a slippery slope.
“To whom are you denying service? If its one population, what other population could you potentially be discriminating against?” says Young.
“This bill is potentially more far-reaching than what people think,” says Paynter, “What if a mosque or synagogue is facing harassment. Can a police officer and firefighter say, ‘that’s against my religion, I wont help them?’”
The Indiana Senate has already signed off on this bill. However, some changes were made. It heads back to the Senate for a final vote.
Then it goes to Governor Pence. He has committed to signing the bill into law
In an ironic pose, at the Four Freedoms monument, a pillar stands with “religious freedom” etched in stone.
Directly opposite that, a pillar highlights “freedom from oppression.”