Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act To Take Effect Wednesday

By Jim Bochnowski in News on Jun 30, 2015 10:40PM

After months of protests, Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act will finally go into effect tomorrow.

The bill, as originally written, allowed private businesses to refuse customers based on their "religious beliefs," which could essentially legalize discrimination against LGBTQ Hoosiers. Fortunately, the state legislature eventually amended the law in April to clarify that the law "bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service." However, the law does exempt churches and their affiliated schools and non-profits from these provisions.

In the intervening two months, at least half a dozen communities in the state have adopted anti-discrimination statutes, according to the Chicago Tribune. One such community, South Bend, also saw its mayor publicly come out in the South Bend Tribune in a moving editorial, in which he wrote:

This kind of social change, considered old news in some parts of the country, is still often divisive around here. But it doesn’t have to be. We’re all finding our way forward, and things will go better if we can manage to do it together. In the wake of the disastrous "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" episode here in Indiana earlier this year, we have an opportunity to demonstrate how a traditional, religious state like ours can move forward. If different sides steer clear of name-calling and fear-mongering, we can navigate these issues based on what is best about Indiana: values like respect, decency, and support for families — all families.

But now that RFRA is the law of the land, activists are planning on pushing for the state to add sexual orientation to the state's nondiscrimination laws during next year's General Assembly session, as Katie Blair, the campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, told reporters.

"I don't think we're going to have this resolved until we pass a full nondiscrimination law statewide for LGBT Hoosiers," Blair said. "We've got to put our money where our mouth is and show the country that we're a welcoming place for all."

Indiana has already spent $1.4 million in plaintiffs fees to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage. The state government is also planning to spend $2 million on a public relations campaign to improve the state's image. The law may have already had a negative impact on its thriving convention industry, which was beset with a number of threats to boycott the state in the wake of the legislation.

Chris Gahl, the vice president of tourism group Visit Indy, told reporters, "The four-letter word (RFRA) is still being brought up by convention planners. Certainly, they're aware the bill is in place, and it is still on their mind. It is something they're still asking about."

Gahl also said he'll have a better handle on the economic impact of the bill in September, when he has six months of data on hotel occupancy and convention commitments.

But as noise over the law dies down and business returns to normal, other states have started to quietly consider similar legislation, including Michigan, according to MLive.com.

While Gov. Rick Snyder has said that he will veto such a measure, he did just sign a bill allowing religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples, according to the Detroit Free Press. Hopefully cooler heads prevail, and the Midwest does not become a hotbed of legalized discrimination.