An Indiana man is invoking the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a defense in his criminal trial for tax evasion. Rodney Tyms-Bey, who owes Indiana $1,042.82, claims paying state taxes burdens his religious exercise. A trial court said no when he tried to use the Indiana RFRA to get out of paying his taxes and now he’s appealing.
The Indiana RFRA, signed into law last year by current governor and vice president-elect Mike Pence, generated massive national controversy. Most of the outrage was based on the fact that it was aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people. At the same time, it also explicitly established a defense to criminal or civil prosecution. As Tyms-Bey’s attorney explained, “When this law was signed, it opened up a whole new world of legal defense.”
Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental American value. It ensures we all are free to believe—or not—as we see fit. But it does not allow us to act on our beliefs if doing so harms the welfare and well-being of others.
This isn’t the first time the Indiana RFRA has been misused since it was enacted last year. Kin Park Thaing, an Indianapolis resident tried to use RFRA as a defense to child abuse charges, but ultimately accepted a plea agreement. Examples like these will surely continue to surface. They serve as important reminders of how an overly broad “religious freedom” law can be exploited.
As legislators look ahead to the beginning of new sessions, they should learn a lesson from Indiana and ensure any law like this protects religious freedom and also clarifies that it may not be used to harm others.