Indiana and the culture wars

If I visit a kosher restaurant and order a pork chop, am I being discriminated against when the waiter says they don’t serve pork?

If an establishment requires that men wear jackets and women dress in what that establishment defines as an “appropriate way,” does that constitute discrimination?

When I visit the Vatican, the Swiss Guards won’t let me in if I’m wearing shorts. They offer a cover-up. It is the same for women, if they bare too much flesh. Is that discrimination?

What about the sign “no shoes, no shirt, no service”? Is that bigotry against the shoeless and shirtless? Should the government force any of these entities to violate their standards?

That is the issue in Indiana, the latest front in the culture war. The state legislature passed and Gov. Mike Pence signed a law that says the government cannot force a business or individual to violate tenets of their religious faith, unless the government has a compelling interest in doing so. The language in the Indiana law is similar to a federal law, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Though applicable to all religions, in ’93, the motivating issues were the protection of sacred lands for Native Americans and the use of peyote as a part of religious tradition.

The backlash following the Indiana law’s passage was immediate. Gov. Pence later admitted there was some “confusion about the law,” and he has since asked legislators to change the measure to make clear, he said, “that this law does not give businesses the right to discriminate against anyone.”

But facts don’t matter when the media and gay activists believe they can find an issue that stirs controversy (the media) and advances their cause (the activists).

The uproar about Indiana’s law is political theater.

Then-Illinois state-Sen. Barack Obama voted for a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1998. Several other states have similar measures protecting conscience from government intrusion. The religious conscience issue was before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case. The Court upheld that company’s right not to cover certain contraceptives for female employees as part of its health plan because of the owners’ religious beliefs and their objection to abortion.

The uproar about Indiana’s law is political theater. It is also a trap set by the Left, which Republicans risk falling into. It works this way: Find a Republican state (Gov. Pence is a Republican and the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican); pick an issue you can twist to your political advantage — and Republicans’ disadvantage; enlist the help of a gay-friendly media; threaten a boycott of the state by prominent individuals and businesses; use this issue in the next presidential campaign to brand Republicans as racists, bigots and homophobes.

In this theater of the absurd, any defense becomes indefensible. The die has been cast; the scarlet letter attached.

Gov. Pence wrote an opinion piece for Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. In it, he professed the absence of discriminatory DNA, saying he believes in and lives by the Golden Rule and that the law, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, merely sets a standard by which a religious objection to a law can be judged.

It doesn’t matter. As reporter Stephanie Wang wrote in the Indianapolis Star, “The argument over what Pence has thus signed becomes not only intellectual, but visceral, vitriolic, ugly. Both sides dig in, because each thinks the other is flatly wrong — in their hearts, and on the facts. And the debate rages on, sometimes spiraling to a place so far away from the law itself.”

The debate has become far more visceral, vitriolic and ugly than intellectual, thanks to the secular progressives who have made it that way. A Wall Street Journal editorial correctly noted, “Indiana isn’t targeting gays. Liberals are targeting religion.”

Republicans have seen the potential for political damage. Nationally, Republicans don’t want to debate social issues in 2016 because they see little advantage in doing so in a rapidly changing culture.

One potential good has emerged from this, however. Miley Cyrus has announced she won’t be bringing her “twerking” self to Indiana, which is bound to have a positive effect on the state’s moral climate.

Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at