NEWS: MAYOR OF VALPARAISO RELEASES STATEMENT ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT

Here is a statement from the mayor of Valparaiso on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed in Indiana last Thursday:

Last Thursday, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) became law.  While some support the new law as a necessary step to clarify and protect religious rights, many consider the law to be unnecessary, divisive and nothing more than a covert attempt to permit discrimination.  Understandably, a flood of emotions and opinions (both positive and negative) has ensued.

I have reviewed the law and various legal opinions that consider its impact on Indiana residents.  Essentially, RFRA prohibits state or local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s ability to exercise his/her religion, unless the government can show that it has a “compelling interest” and the government’s action is the “least-restrictive means” of achieving it.  Although most would agree that our government’s role in the free exercise of religion should be limited, it is unclear what overall purpose the RFRA serves.  As some have noted, RFRA appears to be ideological legislation – a solution searching for a problem.  In addition, whether correctly or not, RFRA has been viewed as sanctioning intolerance and bigotry.  That said, 19 other states have enacted similar legislation and Congress enacted a federal RFRA law in 1993.  Moreover, RFRA clarifies some inconsistent legal standards in previous Indiana court decisions.

Although I believe the legislature and Governor enacted RFRA in good faith to safeguard religious rights and to clarify certain legal standards, I personally believe that the perceived need for this legislation fails to outweigh the confusion, uproar and discord RFRA has created both in Indiana and throughout the nation.  If anything, more time should have been spent explaining the need for RFRA and clarifying its impact on all Hoosiers.  Moreover, our energies should be focused on Indiana’s pressing infrastructure, education and economic development needs, and not consumed with divisive ideological legislation.

As Mayor, my duty is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Valparaiso.  I believe that our strength and resiliency as a city are bound up in the phrase “unity in the midst of diversity”.  We work each day to create a safe and welcoming city as we embrace the opportunities that flow from a collaborative diversity.

While Valparaiso does not have an ordinance specifically prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, it does have an ordinance (No. 19-2011, as amended by No. 29-2011) that states:

The Common Council of the City of Valparaiso, Indiana, has determined it to be the public policy of the City of Valparaiso to provide all of its citizens with equal opportunity to achieve their goals and ambitions and in so doing remove barriers to equal opportunity created by both intentional and unintentional actions based upon stereotypes rather than individual merit.

This City Ordinance clearly expresses the Common Council’s belief that religious freedom and equal opportunity can, and should, exist side-by-side in our community.  Our founding fathers—many of whom were very religious people–fled a nation with state sponsored religion to form a new country where people of all persuasions and beliefs can live in harmony and mutual respect.

I encourage our citizens to stand for the inclusive liberty our founders envisioned, and for which our veterans have, for over two centuries, bravely defended with their lives.  We must affirm that America’s success was forged in a melting pot of ethnicities, religions, cultures and beliefs.  To move forward, we must talk not just of problems, but mostly of solutions, and search hard for the opportunities that flow from our differences.

Therefore, I ask all Valparaiso citizens, businesses, offices, institutions and organizations to promote our City’s spirit of respect, welcoming nature, and appreciation for all persons who live, work and visit our community.  As a symbol of this, I encourage all Valparaiso businesses to post, in a prominent location, a sign welcoming all persons to their establishments.  Such signs, saying “We Serve Everyone,” have been ordered and will be available (not at taxpayers expense) at City Hall

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