Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) Protects Wife Abusers?

A new act in the Georgia legislature, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was designed to protect the right of religious people to exercise their beliefs without molestation from the government. But some critics are condemning the act, saying its wording would actually protect any behavior a person claimed was connected to his religion—like child and wife abuse, for instance.

Some legal commentators have said that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers, as long as the husband (or father) has a religious pretext. Which is easy to provide; the Christian Domestic Discipline Network, for example, offers a host of rationales for “wife spanking.” And let’s not forget Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Georgia has numerous laws protecting child welfare, which is arguably a compelling state interest. But are such laws really the “least restrictive means” of protecting it? Not necessarily. At the very least, the laws offer a novel defense against assault and battery.

Or maybe not so novel. Graham says, “We have found cases where people used their religious views as an excuse to impede an investigation into child-endangerment and child-abuse charges. They were not ultimately successful, but they did slow down the investigations.”

Another critique of the bill is that it allows discrimination for any reason—racial, religious, sexual orientation, or whatever.

Let’s look at both of these overblown critiques of the Georgia RFRA. First, let’s look at the claims concerning “discrimination.” The flat fact is that a private person or business should be allowed to discriminate however it wants. Elton John recently called for a boycott of Dolce & Gabbana because he is butthurt about comments they made about IVF babies and same-sex “rights.” Is that discrimination against Dolce & Gabanna? Yes. And it is totally allowed. It should be allowed.

Freedom of expression is not the same as freedom to break criminal laws. Inflicting bodily injury, except in cases of self-defense, has always been illegal. Murder is illegal. Hurting someone’s feelings, however, should have no civil repercussions. And choosing not to serve or hire someone through my private business, for whatever reason, is every private citizen’s prerogative.

I’m not saying there aren’t lame people out there. Lots of people are mean-spirited and uncharitable. I don’t like it, but being mean is not a crime. It should be “punished” socially, personally, and commercially—through isolation and boycotts, for example—not through civil force. Civil force doesn’t even get to the root of the issue. If you’re a homosexual, why do you want to force a Christian to bake you a wedding cake? Why not encourage other people to join you in a boycott? Or, better yet, become a financial and promotional supporter of a pro-gay bakery. These are more effective means of social change. And they also have the added benefit of allowing civil liberties to flourish.

But perhaps homosexuals are afraid that their social movements and boycotting won’t have an effect, since they are such a small minority in the population. Perhaps. But do you really want to change the laws of a whole country based on the opinions of a small minority who otherwise could have no national impact? That sounds a whole lot like an elitist tyranny of the minority. It’s absolutely against everything this country was built to protect.

Here’s a hot tip—encourage local autonomy, then create a community where you are the majority. Or learn to get along. Antagonism has a way, oddly enough, of dividing communities and increasing hate. Try honey over vinegar. You’d be surprised.

As to the Georgia RFRA protecting abusers, I would point out that “Domestic Discipline” is an agreement between two consenting adults, and the pain inflicted is on par with the (apparently) legal acts of BDSM and role-playing. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure homosexual sex does bodily damage (especially when you take into account the increased risk of STDs), and no one seems to care about that either since it’s “two consenting adults.” I don’t agree at all with Domestic Discipline, and I don’t think it is taught in the Bible, but you don’t really need a religious defense to protect it. Unless you are willing to prosecute BDSMers and homosexuals as well.

As for child abuse, I have personal experience with the arbitrary and anti-Christian bend of Child “Protective” “Services,” and I think that gumming up their works by any means necessary would be a service to the larger American community. But again, it’s not really a religious issue as such. Parents have a right to make choices about how they raise their kids. Unless they are inflicting serious injury on their children (defined in law books as “injury that would not normally heal properly without medical attention”) through malice or neglect, their choices need to be respected by the civil government, whether those choices have religious or non-religious motivations.

That doesn’t just apply to spanking, by the way. Vaccination, veganism, home schooling, and a host of other issues also apply here. And those really aren’t religiously motivated necessarily.

If the Georgia RFRA returns some autonomy to private individuals, business owners, and parents to be free from the extra-criminal regulations and civil molestations of bloated bureaucracies, more power to it. I can’t see anything in it that would contradict the already robust criminal laws on the books, and most of the criticisms leveled against it seem to be straw men. Most of the rights the RFRA attempts to restore aren’t even necessarily religious rights. They are merely the rights every individual citizen should have to order his private business the way he pleases without interference from the over-reaches of government.