Indiana legalizes “straights only” economic discrimination

Yesterday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a purportedly anti-discrimination bill into law that legalizes discrimination against LGBT consumers.

Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, prohibits the government from unnecessarily burdening anyone’s ability to exercise their religious beliefs. Seemingly forgetting that this protection already exists, as established under the First Amendment, the bill can be more accurately described as establishing a “right to discriminate” in Indiana — one in which businesses can refuse service to LGBT customers.

As far as the bill’s religious justifications are concerned, I’m skeptical. Where in the Bible does it say that you shouldn’t let the gays eat cake? If conservatives were really serious about protecting the religious’ right to freely exercise their beliefs, then more of them would be behind California’s “kill the gays” ballot initiative.

Moreover, it isn’t as if religious liberty is under attack in Indiana. When pressed by a conservative radio host as to whether there were any specific cases of religious discrimination that prompted the law, Governor Pence came up empty:

Either way, businesses reserving the right to refuse service to certain groups of people is nothing new. We know how this story goes, and we know how it ends. That religious conservatives are all of a sudden discovering the language of identity politics — seeking to carve out protected status of their own as their cultural hegemony erodes — is only further indication that this battle of the American culture wars is ending, and they’re losing.

Indiana is the 20th state to enact religious freedom discrimination legislation, as many states have sought a consolation prize after losing marriage equality case after marriage equality case in the courts. Indiana faced particular embarrassment last year, when Reagan-appointed Judge Richard Posner issued an ungodly, comprehensive destruction of their argument to uphold their same-sex marriage ban in his majority opinion that overturned it.

And it is already facing further embarrassment in the wake of this new legislation. Major public figures, from NCAA President Mark Emmert to author John Green, have all spoken out against the bill (NCAA basketball’s Final Four and John Green both currently reside in Indianapolis). Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has gone as far as to cancel all company programs that require employees to travel to Indiana. The state’s largest convention, GenCon, has also threatened to move their convention to another state in light of the bill’s passage.

All of this proving, once again, that discrimination is bad business.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • fiona64

    Its wording is intentionally vague, though, and would indeed permit a white supremacist from serving a person of color if their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ (e.g., Christian Identity movement) was such. They would be able to point to this law in court. :-(

  • Demosthenes

    Interestingly, this law would not shield a racist from serving a member of a different race. Race is a protected class. Gays are not a protected class, and are the intended target.

  • fiona64

    Don’t give them any ideas. :-(

  • fiona64

    When a person whose business is a public accommodation (e.g., a florist or a bakery) denies someone service because they are gay, that IS overt discrimination.

  • fiona64

    I attended university in Indiana during the late ’80s/early ’90s. One experience that has stuck with me: I was looking something up in the Yellow Pages (remember those?), and while I don’t recall what I was trying to find, I do remember being shocked to discover the KKK listed there, with an address and phone number.

    Thus, I am not surprised at the bigotry displayed in this bill. Disappointed, but not surprised. The KKK pretty much ran Indiana in the 1920s … looks like it’s not so different now.

  • fiona64

    They argue (falsely) that it’s based on the 1993 RFRA act … but that was clearly intended to preclude discrimination against minority religions, not to give majority religionists the right to be bigots in the public square and thus get around public accommodation laws.

  • fiona64

    I concur wholeheartedly. And I also believe that, at some point, some good ol’ boy Hoosier is going to be very surprised when he is told “I’m sorry, my religious beliefs preclude me serving your kind here,” on the very clear grounds that the intent was “I only meant I shouldn’t have to serve n*****s or f*****s, not that they shouldn’t have to serve meeeee!”

  • Demosthenes

    The intent of the law is obvious. One would have to be a self deceiver to even credibly think anything differently.

  • fiona64

    It is worth noting that three of the so-called religious leaders who were present at the “private signing ceremony” are the presidents of known anti-GLBT groups (one of them is the president of the Indiana chapter of the AFA, a known hate group). Anyone who doesn’t realize this bill is a license to bigot is not paying attention.

  • Demosthenes

    “Indiana is the 20th state to enact religious freedom discrimination legislation”.

    Not every one of these 20 states have identical requirements. Illinois’s, for example, explicitly outlaws discrimination against Gays.

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  • Dan Lack

    I know this is a super hot button issue/story, and even though they may be able to put signs in the windows(I’m still not certain of this, and it would likely go to court on a challenge), practically thinking do you believe that many store owners would actually put such a sign in their windows, almost guaranteeing boycotts, protests, front page news stories, etc, and eventually likely loss of the business…plus unless a customer walked in, and out of the blue, proclaimed himself/herself to be gay, how could the owner even know the person was gay?…the bottom line seems to be, that when these stories about retrogressive laws/bills hit the news, there is a big upheavel, for a relatively short period, then it fades away, and the dire predictions of a repeat of JIm Crow and the South of the 1940’s…don’t seem to occur…Lastly, unless I’m wrong, this whole business, seems to have been focused on same sex couples being refused service by photographers, bakers and florists…and while those folks are obviously bigots and haters, I’m not sure that there have been any other type of overt discrimination, related to these bill around the usa…so while I vehemently abhor and disagree with these so called phony religious freedom bills, on a very practical level I just cant forsee a tida wave of overt open sanctioned discrimination in public venues…

  • Dan Lack

    Would a court actually uphold the right of a restaurateur in Indiana, to refuse service to a gay person, (assuming the restauranteur had learned that the person was in fact gay)?..I’m not certain that I fully understand the law…plus could that same restauranteur put a clearly displayed sign in his window, saying that Gays will not be served?…Isn’t there some overriding law related to “Public Accomodations”, that would come into play here?…Would love for an attorney or someone who has a real grasp on this situation, to please explain the likely, and/or possible real life applications of this bill passage…thanks..

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  • Ninong

    They know what’s in the Constitution. They just don’t agree with some parts of it. To them it’s like the Bible, especially the Old Testament. They just select the parts that suit fit own bigotry and memorize those parts well.

  • Ninong

    The specific intent of this Indiana law is to allow people to practice their obsessive dislike for gay people in the conduct of their business enterprise. They believe it is their “right” to refuse service to gay people on the grounds that they don’t approve of gay marriage or gay people in general. They believe that being gay is a choice and a sinful choice at that. The law was a direct consequence of Reagan-appointed Judge Posner overturning Indiana’s anti-gay marriage law.

    The proponents of the law specifically stated that they wanted the right to live out their religious beliefs in the conduct of their business. Actually they’re only concerned about one specific religious belief but the law is very broad and allows them to discriminate against anyone at all if they claim it is based on a sincerely-held religious belief of theirs.

    There are no laws that intrude on the free exercise of religious freedom by religious organizations or by anyone in the practice of their religion in peace within the confines of their church, or mosque, or synagogue, or temple, or whatever. No law requires a priest to perform a same-sex marriage. No law requires the Catholic Church, or any other church, to ordain women as priests, or force the Jews to have female rabbis. But everybody, including the proponents of this law, knows that. What they want is for that same inside-the-church exemption to be extended to all areas of private, as well as commercial, life.

    They want the right to be able to refuse to rent an apartment to two men, especially if they think they’re gay. They want the right to be able to refuse to rent to an unmarried couple, if they still believe in “living in sin.” But mainly they want the right to be able to show their dislike for gays, especially since Judge Posner struck down their hate-the-gays anti-gay marriage law as utterly and completely unconstitutional.

  • Ninong

    Wear pink shirts with rainbow scarves around your necks and hold hands while softly humming show tunes as you walk in just to make sure you’re recognized as gay. Some people are slow to catch on so you have to give them obvious visual clues. LOL

  • JaneE

    No matter how they try to phrase it, it always means that you want to engage in illegal discrimination. Just stop pretending that you run a public business. Make it a private club, and discriminate to your hearts content. If you can’t make a living off like minded bigots, just accept the fact that your business needs every type of customer to survive, and serve the public, all of it.

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  • Don Chandler

    Aren’t these “religious freedom” acts unconstitutional? For the same reasons bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional? Yeah, it’s the last act if the Courts continue to act rationally. In the meantime, don’t take connecting flights through Indiana (from wiki):

    “Indianapolis International Airport …[is] the largest in Indiana, occupying about 7,700 acres (3,116 ha) in Wayne and Decaturtownships of Marion County, all within the city of Indianapolis. It is near interstate highways I-65, I-69, I-70 and I-74, all of which connect to the city’s I-465 beltway.

    The airport is also home to a FedEx Express hub, the company’s second-largest….”

    Seems like Fedex would have an issue with them being a gay friendly company.

  • xzargo

    Screw Indiana. Boycott the a-holes!

  • But, but . . . they’re “Christians”! There aren’t suppose to be any consequences!

    A thought just occurred to me: these laws might be vulnerable to attack as violations of the Establishment Clause, since the government is, in effect, endorsing religious belief over all other rights. Any lawyers out there have a take on that?

  • Race is federally protected class, so, as Becca pointed out above, that would be a no-no. However, an interracial couple might be in for some trouble.

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  • Indigo

    Terre Haute’s unusually provincial, even by Indiana standards. John Dillinger, the Indiana bank robber, once said he’d never rob a bank in Terre Haute, there’s too many railroad track crossings where an escape car could get trapped.

  • Oh, I’d love for a baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for someone’s second wedding. The screaming from all the hypocrites who oppose gay marriage but have been married 3-4 times will give me an pharmaceutical grade dose of Schadenfreude.

  • PittsburghSports

    Only been to Indiana once. Drove through on a cross country trip and made a stop in Terra Haute for the night. Never felt so unwelcome and judged during that 4 week trip than I did that night, and I’m just a normal, straight, white guy from New York. Maybe it was just bad luck on my part, but didn’t have a single issue on the other 27 days. In direct contrast the people of New Mexico are probably the warmest and friendliest people I’ve ever come across.

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  • Indigo

    Two thoughts: 1. Disgusting! 2. A sign of the times.

  • future_man

    At the “religious freedom” day parade this year in Indiana—what are
    the scantily clad clergy going to dance to on the brightly colored
    floats?

    a. Ain’t no stopping us now?

    b. I will survive?

    c. Le Freak?

    d. Heaven must be missing an angel?

  • This is essentially what people are saying when they don’t believe workers should be paid a living wage, or be permitted health care.

  • crazymonkeylady

    How long till someone in Indiana has the Strongly Held Religious Belief that owning a slave is Biblically Allowed?

  • Josiah Shelburne

    Something managed to make me laugh about this situation in a roundabout way (albeit satire). I hope it does the same for people who read this and need to have a little respite from the teeth-grinding that this Indiana travesty caused. Here it is: “Marcus Bachmann Refused Service in Indiana, Store Owner Assumed He Was Gay” http://goo.gl/SIy7FC

  • Bill_Perdue

    We need ENDA or a Civil Rights Amendment to provide for robust punishments and penalties for those who discriminate and practice violence and an easy path to proving charges of discrimination, hate speech leading to violence, harassment and violence.

    Both parties, in effect, oppose ENDA or a CRA. Democrats refused to pass it when they controlled both houses and only pass it when they’re assured that it can’t be enacted.

  • 2karmanot
  • Hue-Man

    Reminds me of PBS series “Colonial House” – “After the Voorhees’ transgression, and with Paul and Amy Kristina punished for profanity and the bachelor Freemen also declining to attend Sabbath worship, Governor Wyers comes to the reluctant conclusion that punishment for not attending Sabbath is “unenforcable” and are damaging the workforce. Without consulting his counselors, the laws respecting attendance of the Sabbath are then suspended.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_House_%28TV_series%29

    I don’t remember much about the series but the idea of having to spend multiple hours in church on my only day off would have made me consider a return home to England and religious persecution! I don’t imagine that mandatory church attendance would be any more acceptable today than it was 400 years ago.

  • GarySFBCN

    It is one of my fantasies to become a pharmacist, get a job and then ‘convert’ to ‘Christian Science’ and refuse to sell and medications, and then watch my employer try to fire me, based upon my religion.

  • BlueIdaho

    Slightly off topic: Arizona state senator, Sylvia Allen wants a law to make weekly church attendance mandatory. It is beyond belief, that these people, who have never read the US Constitution keep getting elected, over and over and over again.

  • Yes. Jesus saves. The rest pay full sticker price.

  • By the way, the Indiana law is crafted deliberately to be vague, but to attempt to take advantage of holes in Federal legislation. It does not specifically mention LGBT discrimination, just that people with ‘sincerely held’ religious beliefs (translated to mean “because I want to”) can discriminate in any sphere that is not otherwise explicitly prohibited by Federal law.

    Guess what? If you are a pharmacist and do not wish to dispense contraceptives, you don’t have to. You can cite your religious beliefs.

    If you are a store owner and wish not to serve women, you can do this now. Oddly enough, there is no ‘public accommodations’ law for gender because nobody ever thought it would be necessary. True, you can’t discriminate on the basis of gender in hiring or housing…but if you did want to discriminate against a woman for being unmarried or using contraceptives or having had an abortion, that’s now legal in Indiana. Just gotta shift your focus slightly and cite a particular situation or behavior rather than the protected class.

    But yeah, the top and intended effect of this law is it now just became legal in Indiana to put “No Gays or Trans” signs in shop windows.

  • 2karmanot

    Clearly Jesus makes more than minimum wage.

  • 2karmanot

    Soon, Indies will be embolden to write “Gayden’ on the windows of gay owned businesses.

  • ComradeRutherford

    That is not a ‘bug’, it’s a feature. The GOP knows exactly what they are doing. They want to discriminate against blacks, Jews, etc, but they couldn’t figure out a way to do it because it’s obviously wrong. But they’ve latched onto this ‘religious freedom’ scheme and are using LGBT as the excuse, but their goal is legal discrimination against everyone that is not a white, evangelical christian conservative.

    For the next step, just look at how religious conservatives in Germany did it 80 years ago, since that is where the GOP gets all their ideas.

  • dcinsider

    These laws cut both ways, and gay and lesbian business owners should not hesitate to invoke the law whenever they feel like it. Questioning families as to their religious affiliation when they enter the restaurant, then openly refusing them service if their religion is “offensive” to whatever mad eup religion the owner wants to invent.

    Fight fire with fire.

  • caphillprof

    I think this is very true.
    Eventually, somewhere in Indiana, something will happen and the defendant’s attorney will latch on to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a “get out of jail free” card for his client and the then victimized plaintiff will NOT be gay but be African American, Jewish, Muslim, a college graduate or the wrong Protestant sect and then we will see how bigotry fares under alleged religious freedom.

  • FLL

    The term Christian Identity refers to the fairly numerous churches and congregations who espouse white supremacist theology and a racist interpretation of Christianity. I’m sure that Indiana’s new law would permit these folks to refuse to serve black customers, based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” I can’t wait to see what the courts in Indiana have to say when this inevitably makes its way through the court system.

  • JaneE

    Religion has been used to justify the unjustifiable for thousands of years. The easiest way to make evil acceptable is to say “God says”.

  • emjayay

    I was in Indiana a few years back and drove past a new car dealer – GM or Ford – that had a big main dealership sign with a white space with moveable letters. It said “Jesus Saves”.

  • Aaron Mason

    When it comes to hate, it’s hard to beat a conservative christian republican.

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  • keirmeister

    Refusing services to gay people isn’t protecting religious freedom, it is simply being a bigot. If religion were actually a factor, services would also be denied to adulterers, disobedient children, those who covet, non Christians, anyone with a criminal record, the biblically unclean….

    Just picking one “sinner” is a value judgement outside of Christian dogma. Why pick on gay people over, say, a pregnant single woman? Unless the “religious” person is being consistent, he/she has no liberty claim to stand on.

  • mark_in_toronto

    Being from there, my husband and I are visiting my family over Easter holiday. I’m sure nothing will be any different for us, but who knows? My Mom likes Cracker Barrel, a restaurant notorious for discrimination . . . should be interesting . . . I’ll certainly share any notable experience.

  • caphillprof

    Never forget that Indiana revived the Ku Klux Klan in the 20th century.

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