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What religious tolerance looks like in the age of RFRA
When Indiana passed the initial version of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an adaption of the federal law passed in 1993, the backlash was tremendous. Now, some are worried that religious tolerance is quickly but surely eroding. - photo by JJ Feinauer
When Indiana passed the initial version of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an adaptation of the federal law passed in 1993, the backlash was tremendous.

"Regardless of the bills effect many legal experts say it changes little by itself it has become the latest battle in the culture wars," Politico's Adam B. Lerner wrote in the wake of announced boycotts.

And as that battle continues to extend beyond Indiana, some are worried about the potential casualties.

According to Lerner, Indiana has come to symbolize "a proxy fight between liberals hoping to ride the wave of increased support for marriage equality and conservatives shoring up evangelicals enraged by the LGBT movements nationwide successes."

As the Deseret News National's Mark Kellner has noted, Arkansas "hurriedly updated" a bill similar to Indiana's in the wake of the backlash to include language that "more closely mirrors the 1993 federal law."

Bills in Florida and Texas are expected to court similar "backlash" from gay rights advocates and business leaders in the coming weeks, which of course has led to a backlash of the backlash.

There are two major issues at play here: The boundaries of both freedom and tolerance. Both sides claim their boundaries have been, or are being, violated.

Much of the debate has centered around the freedom side. Plenty of ink has been spilled over whether or not the recent crop of religious liberty laws are actually just veiled attempts at legalizing discrimination, or if the public is overreacting based on false information.

But one area that's now being explored, albeit in a more nuanced manner, is how attitudes toward religious tolerance are shifting as a result of the highly publicized backlash in Indiana.

The Week's Damon Linker, a supporter of same-sex marriage, sees what he deems "the liberal betrayal of American liberalism" occurring in the wake of Indiana.

"Same-sex marriage supporters who reject efforts to carve out exemptions for traditionalist believers should at least be honest about what they're doing," Linker wrote on Tuesday.

"They may feel like they're defending freedom, equality, and enlightenment against forces of darkness, prejudice, and oppression. But viewed from the outside, from a sympathetic but skeptical distance, they look rather different: more than a little like bullies distressingly eager to treat millions of their fellow citizens like heretics and to use government power to force them to conform, at least in public, to the dogmas of a contrary, and in some ways incompatible, faith."

In short, critics of the backlash, such as Linker, argue that fighting fire with fire or intolerance with intolerance is only making matters worse, even reshaping how we understand pluralism in America in a negative direction.

The New York Times' Ross Douthat has expressed similar worries, arguing that part of the problem is Americans misunderstand the cultural strength of modern Christianity.

"Going forward, people in positions of authority, political and cultural and corporate, do have a choice about how to deal with these kind of (religious) communities, their members and their institutions and ideas," Douthat wrote on April 2. "Many of those ideas really are in tension with the elite consensus, and sometimes the culture-wide consensus, on issues related to sex and marriage and abortion and homosexuality and more."

But while many argue that tolerance for Christian belief is on a steep decline, there are those on the other side of the coin who believe Christian fears of intolerance add up to nothing more than paranoia.

So when gays want equality, it's militancy; but when Christians want to deny service, its freedom, Jon Stewart joked on his program, "The Daily Show," on April 6.

The New York Times' Frank Bruni, writing last January, summed up the thoughts and arguments of many who disregard the perceived threat to religious tolerance, saying that the current wave of outcries over violations to religious liberty are "an example not of religion getting the protection it must but of religious people getting a pass that isnt warranted."
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