RFRA’s unintended consequences

January 10, 2018

Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence on March 26, 2015. An amendment was then signed the following month. Since, RFRA has been cited in a few unexpected ways:

Child abuse defense

Khin Par Thaing, 30, of Indianapolis, was charged in February 2016 with felony abuse and neglect charges after a teacher discovered her 7-year-old son’s injuries, the Associated Press reported. Thaing, who claimed to be an evangelical Christian, was accused of beating her son with a coat hanger, leaving him with 36 bruises and red welts. Her attorney, Greg Bowes, argued in court documents that the state shouldn’t interfere with her right to raise her children as she deems appropriate. He cited Indiana’s RFRA as part of her defense, saying it gives her the right to discipline her children according to her beliefs. Thaing later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of battery with moderate bodily injury and served a year of probation, according to court records.

Tax exemption bid

Sovereign citizen Rodney Tyms-Bey of Indianapolis raised a RFRA argument as he sought to avoid paying $1,042.82 in state taxes. He wasn’t permitted to make that argument in the trial court, and he appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which delivered a split decision against him last January. “There are no facts that Tyms-Bey could proffer with respect to his exercise of religion that would not be overcome by the State’s compelling interest and the means used by the State in furthering that interest,” Judge John Baker wrote for the majority. Judge Edward Najam dissented, however, arguing that while Tyms-Bey’s argument may not succeed, he was entitled to his day in court. The Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Sex offenders and church

Three Boone County sex offenders were permitted to return to their church congregations after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in October that churches are not considered “school property,” so a state statute barring serious sex offenders from entering schools cannot prohibit the offenders from going to church, even when children are present. The appellate court handed down that decision in John Doe 1, et al., v. The Boone County Prosecutor, in his official capacity, et al., 06A01-1612-PL-2741, reversing a trial court order denying relief that would have permitted the offenders to worship. ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, who argued on behalf of the Does, claimed the offenders’ case could be won on the issue of the definition of school property alone, but he also said that if churches are school property, then the serious sex offender statute would violate the plaintiffs’ rights under RFRA.

Source: IL research


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