Gov. Mike Pence Just Gave Indiana a 'License to Discriminate'
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in a private ceremony this morning, according a written statement from the Republican governor's office.
While supporters of the new law say it protects Hoosiers from unconstitutional government interference with one's "exercise of religion," opponents have labeled it a "license to discriminate," noting that bill emboldens individuals and businesses to refuse service to LGBT people — or anyone else who allegedly offends a citizen's sincerely held religious belief.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith," the Republican Governor said in his statement. "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."
After the bill passed both chambers of the state legislature, opponents became increasingly vocal, saying it sends the wrong message about whether Indiana is a welcoming state that embraces diversity. Major businesses, activists, and organizations spoke out against the bill, including the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indiana's Republican mayor Greg Ballard.
On Wednesday, the CEO of the world's largest gaming convention, Gen Con, wrote an open letter to Gov. Pence, saying the law's passage would prompt the event to reconsider hosting its annual gathering in Indianapolis — along with the estimated $50 million in revenue the conference brings to the state. Out actor George Takei promised a boycott of the state if the Governor signed the bill into law.
"If it goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome, and so we will not visit," Takei wrote on Facebook Monday. "We will not spend.And we will not attend events, including GenCon, the world’s largest gaming convention, held in Indianapolis each year. Many fans here are gamers, Governor Pence, and we will demand the convention move out of your state."
Even the organizers of an upcoming Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gatheringwarned they would consider moving the annual event if Pence signed the anti-LGBT legislation. "Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry," Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star.
"This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it," said the Governor today. "In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana."
As with similar legislation introduced around the country, the Indiana law does not specifically mention LGBT people or same-sex marriage. Instead, it couches its so-called license to discriminate in a stated desire to protect "religious freedom."
By doing so, SB 101 inculcates any "person" — defined as an individual, organization, religious society, church, corporation, company, "unincorporated association or another entity" — from any "government entity" that may "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." The legislation does not define what constitutes a "substantial burden," though it does provide relief for the possibility that such religious freedom might be burdened in the future.
While similar bills have been introduced in several conservative states that have been court-ordered to embrace marriage equality, only one state has signed such a bill into law: Mississippi. The legislation Gov. Pence signed today is substantially similar to a bill vetoed by former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last year amid national outcry.