MSNBC's Matthews Misleads Audience on Indiana Religious Freedoms Law

In his March 26 softball interview with former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) -- "Barney's a good friend of mine, I hope we sell some books" -- Hardball host Chris Matthews misled his audience about the nature of a new law signed into effect in Indiana designed to protect the religious liberties of shop owners.

"What do you make of this thing that was just signed by Mike Pence, a former colleague of yours, a Republican colleague out in Indiana, it says you can be a bartender or you can be a hotel clerk, and if a gay couple comes up, man or woman, a couple of men or women, if they come up and you don't like their orientation, uh, their identity, you can refuse service to them," Matthews asked Frank. "It seems to me that's against the civil rights law." "It is" against federal law, Frank replied.

But in point of fact, the Indiana law in question does not in any way give a "license" to discriminate against business patrons of public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. What it does do is provide that "a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" and in cases where it does, that  it do so: 

only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest

Anyone alleging discrimination in Indiana will still have his or her day in court, it's just that the law will provide guidance to judges to insure that the religious conscience of the party sued will not be "substantially burdened" unless it's done so in "the least restrictive means" of accomplishing the "compelling governmental interest" of ensuring equal access by all to public accommodations.

The long and short of it is the Indiana bill closely mirrors the Bill Clinton-signed 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the text of which you can read online here.

Here's the relevant video and transcript:

MSNBC
Hardball
March 26, 2015

CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: What do you make of this thing that was just signed by Mike Pence, a former colleague of yours, a Republican colleague out in Indiana, it says you can be a bartender or you can be a hotel clerk, and if a gay couple comes up, man or woman, a couple of men or women, if they come up and you don't like their orientation, uh, their identity, you can refuse service to them.

BARNEY FRANK, former Democratic Massachusetts congressman: It is, and by the way, you can't confine that, the Supreme Court has said, just said, gay and lesbian people. It has to be that in general, if you have a religious objection to an antidiscrimination law, you can act on it. Well, what if you're a wedding planner and a divorced Catholic comes in who hasn't gotten an annulment. That's a violation, if you are a very devout Catholic, of that rule.

What if you are a Muslim who owns a store, and a woman comes in in short shorts?

[MATTHEWS wheezily laughs out loud]

FRANK: Can you refuse to serve her? Because if you are a Muslim, seriously, so this isn't something -- you can't have it for, you know, gay people only. And I don't think America wants that.

Look, if you personally want to discriminate, fine. If you don't like me, I don't want to see you, but if you've go a license, in effect, from the community to run a business, and all the support that you get, then the obligation is to serve anybody who's well behaved.

MSNBC Hardball Indiana Video Chris Matthews Barney Frank

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