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April 3, 2015

Indiana discovers discrimination is not good for business

Indianapolis--Gov. Mike Spence signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26, legislation ostensibly to protect business owners’ religious liberties but in reality an end-run around antidiscrimination laws and ordinances.

A similar bill passed in Arizona in 2013, but was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer when she was lobbied by the business community, who told her it was unnecessary and counterproductive.

Another similar bill was introduced in Ohio, but state Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland-area Democrat, and Oxford Republican Rep. Tim Derickson pulled it in February 2014 after it was brought to their attention that it was a Trojan horse bill created by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay law firm. Patmon thought the legislation was designed to protect the rights of people to wear indicators of their faith tradition, like crosses or yarmulkes.

In the days following Pence’s signature being affixed to the bill, everyone from business leaders to sports stars, entertainers to other state’s political leaders weighed in on the legislation, threatening boycotts and urging repeal of the law.

Indie band Wilco canceled their May 7 concert in Indianapolis to protest passage of the law, and GenCon, the largest gaming convention in the country, has threatened to pull out of its Indianapolis home, taking with it the $50 million in business it brings each year.

Adrian Swartout, the CEO of GenCon, sent Pence a letter reading, “Last Year, GenCon hosted more than 56,000 attendees from more than 40 different countries and all 50 states at the Indiana Convention Center. GenCon proudly welcomes a diverse attendee base, made up of different ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds.”

“For more than a decade, Indianapolis has provided tremendous hospitality and accommodation to our attendees, culminating in an estimated annual economic impact of more than $50 million dollars to the city. GenCon and its attendees look forward to receiving the same warm Hoosier hospitality throughout the term of our contract,” Swartout continued. “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”

Angie’s List, which lets users review local services and businesses, planned a $40 million expansion to the headquarters for the $315 million business, with an eye to adding 1,000 new jobs over the next half a decade.

CEO Bill Oesterle, a prominent Republican businessman, noted, “We are putting the ‘Ford Building Project’ on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future. Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.”

Oesterle had already come out against the legislation.

Governors of Washington, Connecticut and New York barred state-funded travel to Indiana over the legislation, as have a number of cities

Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed his dismay at the governor’s action on Twitter, urging Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson to veto a similar bill in his state. That bill passed the state legislature on March 31.

Pence pledged to keep the law on March 29, accusing its opponents of engaging in deceptive rhetoric about its effects. He said, however, that he would be open to amending the law to clarify its purpose.

Another consequence of the law, this one unintended by the right-wing forces behind it, might be the de facto legalization of marijuana in the state. Green Faith Ministries filed paperwork on March 26 with the Indiana Secretary of State. The organization, whose registration has been accepted, believes that smoking marijuana is a religious sacrament, meaning that Indiana’s laws against smoking weed would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Indiana political commentator and attorney Abdul-Hakim Shabazz points out that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, yet alcohol is used in various religious rites.

In his blog on, Shabazz writes, “First of all, marijuana consumption is part of numerous faith traditions. In both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, marijuana consumption is said to be allowed as part of certain religious rites and rituals. Rastafarians are known for their cannabis use. If you’re a member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church you can light up.”

He says that, under RFRA, anyone tried for smoking weed and claiming religious beliefs that allow it, “you got a pretty good shot of getting off scott-free.”

“So frankly, I’m looking forward to the passage of RFRA. Not because I want to change faith and smoke pot, but because I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when this all goes down,” he concludes.











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