Indiana Scores a Goal Against Itself

From July onward, business owners in the state of Indiana will be allowed to refuse service to customers who don’t conform to the business owners’ own religious beliefs.

Those who choose their travel destinations using ethics as a guideline may want to take a wide detour around Indiana because beginning in July, private individuals and businesses will be allowed to practice religious discrimination. Florists, restaurants, hotels and other businesses can legally refuse to serve customers based on their own religious beliefs. For example, they will be allowed to legally turn away lesbians and gays. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act makes it all possible. But just days after Gov. Mike Pence signed the act into law, it’s already beginning to look like the state has scored a goal against itself. Gays, lesbians and civil rights activists are already demonstrating in Indianapolis, and the national organization, Human Rights Campaign, is calling the law dangerous and discriminatory.

By Monday, a number of Hollywood stars, sports clubs, politicians and at least one church came out with boycott threats against Indiana. In newspaper ads and interviews, the CEOs of Apple and Salesforce announced their intention to scale back and reduce investment in Indiana because they didn’t want their customer base to think they approved of religious discrimination. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – with headquarters in Indianapolis – said it was considering moving future “Men’s Final Four” tournaments to another location in order to safeguard both athletes and spectators. And the Disciples of Christ church which holds its annual convention of some 60,000 participants in Indianapolis announced it may look elsewhere for a 2017 meeting location.

Politicians of both major parties have jumped on the bandwagon – including the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. The Republican mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, has called the law a mistake. On Monday, the governor of another state – Dan Molloy of Connecticut – took the unprecedented step of cancelling state funding for official travel to Indiana. The cities of San Francisco and Seattle have done likewise.

Republican Justification

At the other end of the political spectrum, a scant half dozen potential Republican presidential candidates are justifying the law. Texan Ted Cruz is “proud” of Indiana’s governor and has called him a role model for other states. Scott Walker, Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio praise the law and “moderate” Jeb Bush called it “right” because it allows people to express their faith.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pence seems thus far unfazed. He says that Indiana’s law is merely his state’s version of a measure introduced by Bill Clinton in 1993. He notes that other states have similar laws. And besides, Indiana’s law makes no mention of sexual orientation.

Impetus for the Indiana law was the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that gave the owners of the “Christian” Hobby Lobby retail firm the right to deny health care insurance coverage for contraceptives as allowed under Obamacare. Previously, only religious entities such as churches, foundations, hospitals, etc., were exempt from the health care reform law. Since the Supreme Court decision, conservative defenders of traditional marriage have felt emboldened to try to expand their legal rights nationwide.

Fix This Now

Indiana became the 20th state to pass a so-called “law for the restoration of religious freedom.” Others plan to enact similar legislation later this year. Indiana’s law distinguishes itself in two ways from most others. First, it grants personhood to corporate entities, and second, Indiana has no antidiscrimination laws on its books to protect homosexuals. On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star – the state’s largest newspaper – appeared with a totally black first page on which a bold white headline appeal to Gov. Pence appeared: “Fix This Now.”

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