Freedom of Religion = Discrimination?
Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence recently signed a bill into law that protects business owners who refuse service to customers based on religious grounds. This has sparked public outcry, especially among the LGBT groups, who worry that this law will now result in discrimination against non-heterosexual people.
On ABC news’ “This Week” reporter George Stephanopoulos interviews Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence about the Religious Freedom Act.
Stephanopoulos: “Was it a mistake to sign this law?”
Gov. Pence: “Absolutely not. The religious freedom restoration act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than twenty years ago and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a high level of scrutiny is given anytime government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute. And after last year’s Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barak Obama voted for before our legislature. And I was proud to sign it into law last week.”
Continues at 1:50:
Gov. Pence: “The purpose of this bill is to empower, and has been for over twenty years, this is not speculative, the purpose of this legislation which is the law in all fifty states in our federal courts and it’s the law either by statute or court decisions in some thirty other states is very simply to empower individuals when they believe actions of government impinge on their constitutional first amendment right to freedom of religion.”
In this ABC News interview, Governor Mike Pence consistently relies on the popularity of similar religious freedom laws to avoid engaging in the issue about the implications of this law in Indiana. In fact, Gov. Pence does not answer George Stephanopoulos’s question about how this legislation seemingly allows business owners to discriminate against LGBT individuals based on religious beliefs because in Indiana, sexual orientation is not a protected civil right.
In this clip we can see how Gov. Pence is arguing that Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Act is necessary and justifiable because similar religious freedom laws exist is several other states and at the federal level. He continues to try support his decision to sign the bill by saying that a similar law signed by Bill Clinton and voted on by Barak Obama. By basing his argument mainly on the existence and popularity of similar religious freedom laws throughout the country, Gov. Pence is committing an Appeal to Popularity Fallacy:
Premise 1: Religious Freedom is the law in all fifty states in our federal courts
Premise 2: Thirty states have adopted Religious Freedom into state law
Premise 3: Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into federal law as President.
Premise 4: When Barak Obama was a senator, he voted for a Religious Freedom law.
Conclusion: The Indiana Religious Freedom Act should be signed into law.
Essentially, Gov. Pence is suggesting that we should accept Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act because we have accepted other religious freedom laws in other states and at the national level. Should we accept this argument that “Since it is popular elsewhere, then it must become law in Indiana?” Gov. Pence is relying on his audience to accept his unstated assumption (premise five) that: “If other states and top government officials support similar laws, then we should support Indiana’s version of the law.”
Now, just because a law exists and works well in another state or is popular among a group of people does not mean that it should be law (either in Indiana or elsewhere). The basis of Gov. Pence’s argument rests on distracting the audience away from reasonable critiques and challenges by suggesting that these concerns are unfounded because the law is popular elsewhere.
Appeal to Reason
This is an attempt to distract the audience from considering the challenges to the argument by relying on the convincing nature of popular support and belief. By shifting the focus to the fact that similar laws exist and function well in other states, Gov. Pence is trying to gain support for his bill by appealing to popularity as synonymous with right or good. Be careful of attempts to persuade you to accept an idea by relying solely on popular support. We all know that just because something is popular, it doesn’t make it right or true!