I am dangerously close to thanking Indiana.
Someone had to test the waters. While there are at least 20 states plus the federal government who have passed so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,” Indiana’s was singled out because, as Pagan lawyer and blogger John Halstead explains, it expands the definition of “persons” who can be protected and it allows the use of the law as a defense in civil suits. In other words, it gives people and private business owners with religious objections a potential shield to discriminate against the gay community.
The backlash has been immediate and intense. While Indiana Governor Mike Pence continues to claim that the law is not meant to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, people have taken to social media to show otherwise. The most powerful image is this one:
Then, businesses, including many influential tech companies that attend a major convention in Indianapolis, pulled out of the convention citing a belief in non-discrimination and equality and their reason. The Indy Big Data conference includes both top tech producers and hot up-and-comers who seek to turn Internet information into profit, and by doing so bring a river of cash into Indiana. After the RFRA bill was signed, major tech companies such as Salesforce, EMC, Cloudera, Pivotal, and Platfora pulled out of the conference.
To their credit, Indy Big Data supported the withdrawal of these companies, and they called upon their home state to immediately take notice of the significant economic harm this law was doing to the state within days of the bill’s signing. GenCon, another convention held in Indianapolis, has come out against the law as well.
To add to that, more immediately recognizable companies have rebelled against the state. Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed his disdain, Amazon pulled out if Indy Big Data, and Angie’s List ended their plans to expand in Indiana. Supportive cities started restricting business travel by their employees to the state.
Then there was Memories Pizza. After announcing that they would openly discriminate against the gay community by refusing to cater gay weddings, it got slammed with social media hate from across the Internet, including a slew of nasty Yelp reviews. The company closed very quickly. It started a crowdfunding campaign and did receive over $25,000 in donations within hours (which is really scary), but you can’t run a business very long with a GoFundMe and an axe to grind.
With all of the economic turmoil in his state, Governor Mike Pence called for the state congress to send him a new bill that would clarify that Indiana’s RFRA could not be used to justify discrimination. He signed those changes today. As always, the almighty dollar trumps “sincerely held religious belief.”
But here’s where Indiana becomes so amazing. Arkansas passed a very similar bill earlier this week. Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed it, stating that even his own son signed a petition asking him to reject the law. I, however, have a sneaking suspicion that Wal-Mart’s call for him to veto the bill had a much greater impact. Wal-Mart is based in the state of Arkansas. It’s hard to believe that mere family ties inspired Gov. Hutchinson when the world’s biggest retailer was publicly breathing down his neck. Today Hutchinson did sign an amended version that made the Arkansas similar to the federal bill, which did not bring private businesses into the matter.
The protests have had an effect.
On the religious side, there has been a wonderfully wicked response from the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church. High Priestess Dusty Dionne has made the news in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by praising Indiana’s bill. She is “happy” that her new religious freedoms allow her to express her own religious beliefs through “plural marriage, drugs, and nudity.” “Love is the law,” says Dionne. “If I want to marry a horse, I can marry a horse.”
Admittedly, Dionne’s enthusiasm is not genuine, but it sticks at the weak point of “religious freedom.” You cannot constitutionally protect only one sincere religious belief. “If they are going to open this can of worms, we are going to stick it right in their face, says Dionne. I’m sure the Temple of Satan is not far behind on this. They always have the perfect response when it comes to religious freedom. I doubt any governor wants to invite whatever they have up their sleeves.
So Indiana has stuck its neck out, and it seems to have been chopped off quite cleanly. The governor has backtracked. After Pence turned tail, every other state considering a similar bill is on warning. They know exactly what will happen if they attempt to sanction discrimination. So…thanks Indiana?