SMITH: Focusing on policy through politics

June 10, 2017

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” —A.W. Tozer

The dental hygienist had me. With my mouth open yet tongue silenced, she had a mirror in one hand and a cleaning instrument in the other and asked, “So, exactly what do you do?”

At the next respite I muttered, “I lead a public-policy-advocacy organization. But asking exactly, well, there’s more.”

I shared that the Indiana Family Institute advocates pro-family policies across our state from a theistic worldview, which fosters abundant health and prosperity. That’s loving our neighbors as we love ourselves via the ancient truths of Judeo-Christian ethic that influences American public life.

But, don’t you work for the Republican Party? And, as a faith-based group, aren’t you part of a church? No, comes the sometimes-confusing answer. We are only about public policy. By that we mean the laws and policies committing us to shared patterns, practices and procedures. What norms should govern the state’s taking a child from a dysfunctional family? What should the legal definition of marriage be? Why should Indiana collect divorce statistics? How do free speech and religious liberty relate to all this?

It can be hard explaining this, so I illustrate. For years, the leader of the Indiana Senate, David Long, and IFI supported similar policies. So we were allies in advancing public policy. In 2014, he agreed to changes blocking voters from affirming the traditional definition of marriage, and we opposed his position. In 2015, he supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, even calling Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, ill-informed and misguided for blatant mischaracterizations of RFRA. We liked that. But then he flipped—along with almost everyone else—and championed the “fix,” thereby eroding religious liberty.

After that debacle, in 2016 he backed a bill repealing the protections RFRA strengthened by supporting laws we believe LGBT activists would use to bully traditional marriage supporters.

For us, this was an inherent clash with free speech and religious liberty. But nevertheless, Long and others voted for it before their Republican colleagues, decrying the confusion being created by its leaders, stopped the bill. So, in less than a year, on the core issue of religious freedom, Long was for RFRA (good), for weakening it (bad), and for trashing RFRA and passing special laws activists could use to stifle religious liberty (really bad).

To no surprise, when Long ran for re-election in the Republican primary in 2016, Indiana Family Action, Indiana Family Institute’s political arm, let his Fort Wayne constituents know these facts. IFA spent less than $30,000 educating voters on his views. He spent about $700,000 in his overall campaign that year and won handily. Some pundits insist we were idiots. But, actually, we won a huge policy victory. How? Long said he would champion the same liberty-denying bill in 2017. Yet when his constituents let him know their views, largely through our efforts, Long decided not to champion it again.

We spent maybe $30,000 educating Hoosiers on the inherent problems for religious freedom when legislating sexual-orientation and gender-identity laws. Long outspent us $23 to $1, yet still chose not to push the bill. That is a policy-advocacy organization at work, and working well.

At the same time, IFA spent twice that much educating citizens in a Senate race in Hendricks County. The more conservative candidate defeated an incumbent who flip-flopped on marriage. A major policy victory.

Our mission and methods are often misunderstood. But as Tozer notes, following one’s conscience might lead to opposing policies advanced by politicians, even ones we personally like and respect.•


Smith is president of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” Send comments toibjedit@ibj.com.


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