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Indiana Signs Controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act Into Law

By Margaret Paulson in News on Mar 26, 2015 10:30PM

This morning, in a private ceremony, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law. Though other states are doing their best to move forward toward equality for people of all genders and sexual orientations, Gov. Pence and others in the Indiana legislature seem to be just fine moving backward.

The law prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religions, but is is widely believed to be a fa├žade so that bigoted business owners and others are able to discriminate against LGBT individuals. However, defendants argue that it protects people with strong religious beliefs from government interference and having to do things that go against their beliefs. Gov Pence also seems to be hiding behind the guise of "religious liberty." Overall that should sound like a good thing, but beneath its surface SB 101 truly isn't about religious freedom at all. In a statement, Pence said:

"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."

However, when Pence and other conservatives refer to “people of faith,” the rest of the country can’t help but feel that they’re referring to the status quo that always seems to struggle with moving forward socially: fundamentalist Christians.

Business owners in Indiana who disagree with SB 101 have been posting stickers in their windows, letting potential customers know that “This business serves everyone.” Actor and activist George Takei took to his Facebook, protesting SB 101 as “backward-looking and divisive” and pointing out its similarities to past laws that banned people of color from white businesses.

Even Republican mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard voiced his concern and stated that "Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place … We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here."

Aside from taking one giant leap back socially and empathically, SB 101 might spell out big economic woes for Indiana. Adrian Swartout, the owner and CEO of Gen Con, which is one of the largest gaming conventions in the world and has been held in Indiana every year since 2003, wrote a letter to Gov. Pence on March 23. Swartout urged Pence to reconsider his support of SB 101, arguing that Gen Con would have to reconsider hosting again in Indianapolis because “we are happy to provide an environment that welcomes all.” Swartout estimates Gen Con generates $50 million annually for Indiana’s economy.

Before this morning, The Disciples of Christ said it will cancel its 2017 convention slated for Indianapolis if the bill is signed into law. The impact of the convention is expected to be $5.9 million. Todd Adams, vice president of the church, told The Indianapolis Star "Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry."

The NCAA Final Four are being hosted in Indianapolis this year and NCAA president Mark Emmert expressed his concerns about the law, as did Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player.

And Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also took to Twitter Wednesday night to express his company's response towards SB 101 and their future plans regarding Salesforce's business investments in Indiana. Benioff co-signed a letter opposing SB 101 with six other Indiana tech CEOs.

(Editor's Note: Being a born-and-raised Hoosier, the passing of SB 101 especially hurts my heart because it is showing the world that Indiana is a place of intolerance, a place where not everyone is welcome. Sadly, I've experienced that intolerance myself in my home state, but that doesn't take away from the fact there are many wonderful people in Indiana currently fighting for more acceptance and positive changes. SB 101 is a poor representation of many wonderful Hoosiers, while also sadly still a prime example of an ideology you can find throughout much of the state, one that has forced many citizens to pack up and move away. Hopefully the economical ramifications as a result of SB 101 will be a wake up call for the Indiana government. I wish our neighbors to the east tolerance and luck in creating a better future for Indiana. -Lisa)

Additional reporting by Lisa White