Sunday, March 29, 2015

Indiana Governor Signs Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Bill At Closed Ceremony

Hundreds rally yesterday against Gov. Mike Pence & new Indiana discrimination law.
On Thursday Indiana Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed legislation that could legalize discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Though the bill has been referred to as "discrimination", "harmful" and "unacceptable" Pence saw fit to usher this bill into law against the wishes of what seems the majority of those ho live in the state.

The bill which is called "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act" would allow any person or corporation (also a person) to cite it's religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. In addition business owners who don't want to serve same-sex couples, for example, would now have legal protections to discriminate.

Opponents of the bill, which include many Indiana business leaders, argue that it could open the door to widespread discrimination which could lead to boycotts, loss of business, thus a loss in revenue to the state.

Pence said in a statement about his signing the bill...

"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith. The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action."

Many believe that because the bill received national condemnation Pence decided to sign it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press. The Indianapolis Star reported that members of the media "were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor's office."

Pence's signature on the bill came despite concerns from organizers set to hold major events in the state. Here are just a few events that will now avoid and or boycott the state of Indiana due to this  bill...

  • Leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) sent a letter to the governor saying they were reconsidering holding their 6,000-person general assembly in Indianapolis in 2017 because of the legislation."We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses" they wrote.

  • Marc Benioff, CEO of the tech giant Salesforce, tweeted Thursday that the company would now be avoiding Indiana.

  • Angie's List withdrew an Indianapolis campus expansion project from consideration days before groundbreaking and announced the halt of its headquarters expansion.

  • The Indianapolis-based NCAA, which will hold next week's Final Four of the men's college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, also expressed its misgivings saying said it would reevaluate its commitment to holding events in the state. NCAA's President Mark Emmert said in a press release."The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events," 

  • Organizers of Gen Con, which has been called the largest gaming convention in the country, also threatened to stop holding its event in Indiana if RFRA became law. Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of Gen Con, said more than 56,000 people attended the convention in Indianapolis last year, pumping more than $50 million into the city.

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a computing company will also stop sending employees to Indiana despite the fact the business bought a software company in Indiana for $2.5 million last year tweeting "Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.”
  • Yelp issued its own statement calling the religious freedom laws a "terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted."

  • Max Levchin, the CEO of HVF and a founder of companies such as Slide and PayPal supported the boycot tweeting "What is happening in Indiana is pretty unbelievable. However it’s dressed up, it’s a signal that discrimination is welcome in this state."

  • Eli Lilly and Company, the global drug giant, which employs more than 11,000 workers in the state, called the law “bad for business.” The company is Indiana-based, and unlikely to move, but they released a statement to ThinkProgress that indicated their disappointment in the law.

  • Chief Executive of Apple (arguably the largest company in the world) Tim Cook took to Twitter to condemn the law saying "Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law"

To drive the point home it has come to light that even public officials are boycotting the state.

  • Republican mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard spoke out against the bill, saying it sent the "wrong signal" for the state and city.

  • Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a Democrat, said he would not permit the use of city funds for travel to Indiana. 

  • San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will now prohibit his employees from visiting the Hoosier state on official business and with tax dollars, except when it is deemed essential to public health and safety.
  •  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has issued a ban on all non-essential state-sponsored travel to Indiana, citing the "religious freedom" law as the reason behind the ban.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced Monday that he would ban state-funded travel to Indiana. 

  • Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) signed an executive order on Monday barring state-funded travel to Indiana because due to the state's new law.

  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) on Tuesday banned city employees from using public funds for non-essential travel to Indiana, again citing the state's religious freedom law. 

To get an understanding of just how wrongheaded this bill is all one has to do is listen to these 3 groups...

Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said in a statement.

"We are deeply disappointed that the governor and state lawmakers have been tone-deaf to the cries of legions of Hoosiers—including businesses, convention leaders, faith communities and more than 10,000 people who signed petitions against the bill—who say they don't want this harmful legislation to impair the reputation of our state and harm our ability to attract the best and brightest to Indiana."

The Human Rights Campaign, which opposed Indiana's RFRA and other similar bills popping up around the country, has argued the potential for discrimination is huge.

"These bills are often incredibly vague and light on details -- usually intentionally. In practice, most of these bills could empower any individual to sue the government to attempt to end enforcement of a non-discrimination law. The evangelical owner of a business providing a secular service can sue claiming that their personal faith empowers them to refuse to hire Jews, divorcees, or LGBT people. A landlord could claim the right to refuse to rent an apartment to a Muslim or a transgender person."

In a statement Thursday, HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said the Indiana General Assembly and Pence have sent a message saying,

"As long as your religion tells you to, it’s ok to discriminate against people despite what the law says. This new law hurts the reputation of Indiana and will have unacceptable implications for LGBT people and other minorities throughout the state."

I think those 3 excerpts sum the situation up rather succinctly.

In light of the backlash against Indiana's "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act" the state of Arkansas is considering a similar bill that would protect individuals and corporations from denying service to members of the LGBT community.

Why does it feel like that when it comes to the issue of discrimination it always seems to be one step forward, two steps back?

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