Indiana needs to correct classic legislative Hoosier Inhospitality blunder before damage is permanent

by Kent Sterling

Specials like "Showdown in Indiana - the Battle over Religious Rights" on CNN aired all over national TV last night, and they threaten a hard-earned reputation of Indiana as a welcoming state.

Specials like “Showdown in Indiana – the Battle over Religious Rights” on CNN aired all over national TV last night, and they threaten a hard-earned reputation of Indiana as a welcoming state.

Legislative arrogance + stupidity = irreparable damage to Indiana’s reputation and standing as welcoming host for events like this weekend’s Final Four.

Who in his or her right mind objects to baking a bake or arranging flowers for a gay or lesbian couple excited about getting married?  That’s an extreme example of the effect of Indiana Senate Act 101 that was signed into law by Indiana governor Mike Pence last week, but one that is being cited as the national media scoffs at the lunacy of Hoosiers intent upon being viewed as morons.

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A few years ago, I stood at the podium of the Indiana House of Representative with then speaker of the house John Gregg, who turned to me and said, “Look out there.  75% of those people are idiots.”  I laughed.  He corrected me, “I’m serious.  Idiots.”

Can’t argue that today as ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, and a variety of other national networks decry the law that opens the window to allow discrimination of members of the LGBT community.  That window needs to be closed immediately and permanently for many reasons, but the two most important are to correct the perception that Hoosiers are stone cold fools mired in a consciousness straight out of 1952, and to remove a good excuse for conventions and sporting events to pull the plug on Indy as a host city for their lucrative events.

I’ve read the law, and in my understanding it provides protection for individuals and corporations who assert religion as a reason for denying services or goods to a customer.  It doesn’t promote discrimination, but it sure doesn’t prohibit it as the reason for denial to those in the LGBT community.

Not only is passing such a flawed law the result of cockeyed priorities; it’s imbecilic from a pragmatic perspective.  The expected economic impact for this weekend’s Final Four to the Indianapolis area is $70.8 million.  The value of the marketing exposure for the area dwarfs that number.

This city was literally built to host major sporting events, and this legislation puts at tremendous risk all of what city leaders began planning nearly 50 years ago to distinguish Indianapolis from other similar communities.

There is a fix, but it requires to kind of quick action rarely seen in any state legislature.  A law protecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community from the kind of discrimination this law allows must be passed prior to the Final Four.

The law itself is a no-brainer – a fait accompli – because, number one, it’s good policy to ensure that no group is discriminated against for any reason.  It’s always been absurd to view the LGBT community as aberrant or worthy of scorn, but today it is also bad for business, and as the economy of the midwest has evolved away from manufacturing to service and hospitality, exclusionary legislation is bad business.

The NCAA has said they are monitoring the situation, and the NFL doesn’t need much of an excuse to shun a small market like Indianapolis as a potential host for another Super Bowl or the annual host city for the Scouting Combine.  For all of the events related to sports that call Indiana home, there are dozens of lucrative conventions that enjoy the convenience and friendliness Indy provides.

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Risking that reputation to take a political stand that compels votes from those who espouse the doltish theory that homosexuality is an abomination is a step toward Indiana returning to its long discarded status as the much maligned birthplace and home to the KKK.

Indiana is better than this – way better than this.  Hoosier hospitality is a well-earned and valuable economic asset for the state, but it is quickly becoming a punchline as legislators have indulged their religious preferences and thirst for votes from those still convinced that homosexuality is a choice, curse, and plague.

Time for Indiana to step up to favor inclusiveness, reason, and economics, and pass a law to protect the LGBT community.

How often does a path show itself to be pragmatic, wise, and decent at the same time?  The legislature has a chance to prove wrong those who believe them to be dunderheads.  Do they have the smarts to embrace it?

(Kent hosts the Kent Sterling show afternoons from 3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.)

14 thoughts on “Indiana needs to correct classic legislative Hoosier Inhospitality blunder before damage is permanent

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Sadly, it is your understanding of the law that is lacking, if you see a lack of parallel legislation protecting the LGBT community from discrimination as unnecessary.

  1. Jeff Gregory

    It looks like the wheels are already in motion to do that quick legislative action. However, it won’t stop there because of the many state laws that state the same thing (as if we haven’t been reminded of that ad nauseum). Because of my profession, this is in my wheel house.

    The law is unsound as well an unwise and it will not stand anywhere it is challenged. Already the powers that be have seen the economic disaster and reputation damage they have done to the state. Others will join suit or the Court will eventually overturn it as written. Christians are free to define their morality anyway they see fit, but if they really want to reach people for Christ, shaming them and denying them service is not method Jesus ever taught.

    The state does not have a right to infringe on religious freedom, that’s true. However, just like my freedom to be able to swing my fist stops at the tip of your nose, the legal ability someone has to exercise their religious freedom has to stop at the tip of someone else’s right to be treated equally among citizens.

    If one has a business that prospers using the channels of the normal streams of commerce, then they have to allow access to everyone to maintain that relationship to public commerce. All this law will do in Indiana is prompt a federal inclusion of the LBGT community within the protections of existing civil rights law.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The image of Hoosiers because of this politically motivated boondoggle has shifted a bit, and will likely continue to drift askew because of the opportunity to grandstand rather than govern that will exist through the end of the media circus coming to town with the Final Four. Every blowhard in town will try to exploit 15 minutes of fame 30 shekels for the district.

  2. Mark J Janicki

    So, I just want to know how exactly this discriminates against Gays . . . These statutes, all they do is give “standing” to the individual, small business or corporation to go into Federal Court to challenge a service or product that is being demanded from them that may interfere with their Religious beliefs or to prevent interference from their Religious beliefs. It’s not specific to Gays . . .it’s not specific to anyone or anything . . . You have to prove you’ve been “substantially” harmed . . . You still have to go to court and a court still has to RULE . . . and YOU have to prove your case!! It has nothing to do with Gays unless there is a specific incidence!! Sheeez, how does this legalize discrimination against Gays??

    1. Jeff Gregory

      As many times this has been covered on how it is different than the federal version on so many news sources, I can’t understand why people still ask this question – unless they only get their news from a so-called “fair and balanced” news network.

      The problem is that the Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.

      Why is that important? Because the for profit bakery or photographer can discriminate against a same sex couple for services and use this law as a defense. That is what spurred this Indiana law. It is all about context. The federal law protected groups from discrimination (i.e. laws that restrict the free exercise of religion). The Indiana law ENABLES discrimination while using the law as a defense.

      1. Mark J Janicki

        Interesting answer . . . and my guess would be that either 1) your a little insecure or 2) so full of yourself that you feel it beneath you to answer the question I actually asked …. I didn’t ask about the difference between the Indiana RFRA and the Federal RFRA … but thanks for being kinda condescending because it does point out you have know idea of what you’re talking about …. so one more time, the law is not specific to Gays … it would be applicable to let’s say a Gay baker who was asked by the Westboro Baptist Church to bake them a cake and put on the cake “God hate F**s”! I would defend their right to turn those idiots down … and they would have the ability in court to present their case on why they would deny their services …. Again, the Indiana law gives a legal cause of action and a legal defense depending on which side of the cause of action you are on. If you can demonstrate that based on your Religious beliefs that government or a private party is demanding of you, or from you violates your long standing Religious beliefs! The law is not a defense it’s a means to “your day in court”!

        1. Jeff Gregory

          First of all, I apologize for sounding condescending. Because of my job as the director (and investigator) of a human rights agency, it seems that all I have been doing is fielding that question or similarly situated questions all week. So, I understand your attack, but I am pretty sure I know what I am talking about.

          You are right; the law isn’t specific to homosexuals, but it certainly potentially affects that group. It doesn’t take a genius to see WHY the language changed in the law from the federal one. The people who pushed for this law (and the changes in it from the federal) are the same people that were behind the same sex marriage ban. Not too many people think that is a coincidence.

          So, I really did answer your question, Mark. Your question is “how does this law discriminate gays?” The law doesn’t explicitly discriminate against gays; it just sets up a mechanism for the discrimination of groups (the LBGT community being the biggest target under the circumstances). People are up in arms because they don’t appreciate the state stepping in and paving a legal way for those who are inclined to discriminate based on sexual orientation or identity. If Indiana did not intend for it to be so, then they wouldn’t have changed the language to allow it to be so (and that is why they are now pressured to change it).

          Again, I apologize if I offended you with my previous reply.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      I disagree with your verbiage. The goods and services are not being demanded by the customer, but offered by the business. What if the religious beliefs prohibit selling a cake to Lutherans or Hispanics or African Americans. How about the lunch counters in Alabama 50 years ago who refused to sell to African Americans? It was specific to gays in that the LGBT community is not provided parallel protection under the law. That protection exists for race, gender, etc…

      The legislation should not require that provision because it would be great if everyone treated people with respect and generosity of spirit. Sadly, as with the ban on slavery and the National Civil Rights Act, social change must be enforced by law.

      1. Mark J Janicki

        Goods and services ARE being demanded from someone who has a Religious belief contrary to the customer . . . the customer has every right to take his business elsewhere (see my Westboro Baptist Church example) . . . and no one is talking about not selling cakes to Lutherans, Hispanics, or African Americans (where did that come from) . . . the LGBT lifestyle is not a Christian belief . . . or for that matter a Jewish or Muslim belief!! Everyone had protection under this law . . . all the law stated is that the one who denied services (on a Religious basis . . . hence the term The Religious Freedom Restoration Act . . . and NOT no cakes for Hispanic Act) would be able to prove in a court of law why their Religious beliefs would not allow them to provide service (to the Government, private person, LGBT, or Beelzebub or whoever)!! This does not even compare to slavery or gender rights . . . the intolerance seems to be not respecting an individuals belief in God and his teachings . . . stick to sports!!

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Not true. The LGBT community did not have protection, and that’s why the language was added. No one is talking about not selling cakes to people of other religions, genders, races, or disabilities because all are protected classes under Indiana and federal law. The LGBT community is not protected in Indiana – until now. The ability to not provide baked goods or pizza for guy ceremonies is an inane and futile desire. That anyone would attempt to assert such a right is no less medieval than not serving blacks at a diner.

          Discrimination is discrimination – regardless of the rationale.

          This law was a quid pro quo for the defeat of the guy marriage ban, and shows why Indiana is occasionally described as unfortunately regressed in its thinking.

          No one had protection under this law but those already included in a legally protected class, and the LGBT community was not among them. They are now.

  3. DownTheStretch

    Any chance there is language in the RFRA that allows for discrimination of married but incompetent, overpaid, and/or annoying basketball coaches?


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