Indiana governor signs a bill legalizing discrimination against gays—and other people

March 27, 2015 • 9:48 am

The Moral Arc has stopped bending towards justice today, as the governor of Indiana signed a “Religious Freedom Restoration” bill in which the “freedom” is the freedom to discriminate against people based on your religious beliefs. And the “people” against whom you can now discriminate in Indiana were clearly meant to be gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals.  Not surprisingly, the bill was signed in secret. As PuffHo reports:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. But many opponents of the bill, which included business leaders, argued that it could open the door to widespread discrimination. Business owners who don’t want to serve same-sex couples, for example, could now have legal protections to discriminate.

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said in a statement Thursday. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

The bill received national attention, but Pence signed it with little fanfare in a ceremony closed to the public and the press. The Indianapolis Star reported that members of the media “were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.”

As usual, the supporters of the bill (Republicans, of course) lied about their intents:

Conservative supporters, however, have denied that the bill is about discrimination and instead have argued that religious liberties are under attack.

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” Pence said in his statement Thursday. “For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

It’s not about discrimination? How is that, when it allows you to discriminate against nearly anyone if you can claim that violates your religion? And can people of one faith discriminate against those of another on religious grounds? Can an Orthodox Jewish male legally refuse to sit next to a woman because it violates his religion? The implications—and possibilities for lawsuits—are endless.

Some businesses are boycotting Indiana, and I have a strong inclination myself to refuse invitations from any public university in that state. Not that it will make a difference, for Indiana (as we learned from the Ball State issue) is basically a conservative Southern state. But we can express our displeasure.

h/t: Cindy

85 thoughts on “Indiana governor signs a bill legalizing discrimination against gays—and other people

  1. These people are still (in 2015 no less!) fighting for equal rights to be free from discrimination and then THIS happens? I only wiah, as the reader above quipped, this WAS a joke. I hate religion more and more with each passing hour…

  2. There will come a day, and it might still be a while off, that everybody considers racism, bigotry and any form of discrimination as disgusting and vile as slavery is almost universally considered today. Unfortunately there are still too many out there who, based on religious grounds, will happily discriminate.

    Even if the Moral Arc is bending the wrong way today, in the long way humanity will find the right course.

  3. As both a citizen of Indiana and an employee of Ball State University, please know that “Indiana” is not actually, or even simply, “a conservative southern state.” It is a diverse place with people of good will and character who are as deeply disturbed by this bill as you are, and the state did vote for Obama in 2008. Let’s all be the change we want in the world, and keep working towards bending that arc towards justice, mercy, and compassion.

    1. I’m sure there are people of good will in Indiana.

      But, the fact is, you voted for these morons. L

        1. Some of my neighbors, no doubt, voted for these morons, but the people I did vote for, my state rep and my local mayor, voted and/or spoke out against this bill. So, the use of “you” is problematic.

          My reason for this reply is this: when we broadly label people or use stereotypes, we miss the opportunities to have useful allies and needlessly offend those who might be eventually converted.

    2. I agree with you and I completely understand where you are coming from as Florida is looked at politically in very much the same way as Indiana. On top of that, people from all over the world assume that everyone from Florida is a blithering idiot. (Thank you so very much for that Seth McFarlane)

  4. It’s just a bill.

    I’ve always felt that bills exist so that legislators can pretend to be working in the interest of their voters, and then, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands when the bill (predictably) fails to pass.

    1. according to wikipedia, at least 11 astronauts and 10 Nobel Prize winners have been born,educated, or lived in this most southern of northern states, if that counts for anything. but it also gave us Michael Jackson, so that tips the balance back towards the crap-side of things.

    1. The really fun time will be when someone uses the law to discriminate against a Christian… Hopefully that person will share with the rest of the world.

        1. When other states tried to enact similar laws, they failed when people realized that, for example, Muslims might use the law to discriminate against Christians. In this case, it’s going to have to be legally challenged so it can be declared unconstitutional.

      1. How does a proprietor know someone is gay, short of asking them to their faces? Does the law allow him to go by his subjective perceptions/observations? Seems that the proprietor would have to ask everyone. If a straight customer refuses to answer, what then? If the straight customer must answer, then s/he should leave immediately. What are ya gonna do about that, Mr. Proprietor?

        1. Good question. One can’t know for sure unless a couple displays public affection, or is Y.M.C.A. gay as a means of personal identification. The whole endeavor is fraught with terrible possibility. The proprietor is possibly a self loathing homo, who projects his emotional dysfunction on those around him. The bible is at the root of his problem, I’m quite sure.

        2. Yeah, I always wonder the exact same thing.

          I guess it’s pretty obvious when you’re getting a wedding cake or such, though.

  5. Yes, it’s not about discrimination in exactly the same way that voter ID laws (which Indiana has also enacted) are not about voter suppression. We shouldn’t really pay any attention to the clear and unambiguous motivation for a law, right? (“These are not the droids you’re looking for.”)

  6. DId the governor used to work for Woolworth’s lunch counter in the early ’60’s? He would have loved it, pre-1965 deep South, when his kind of people had all the religious freedom they could handle, why, they could even bring out brightly lit crosses for special parties on their neighbor’s lawns!

    What the hell is wrong with Indiana?! No, what the hell is wrong with this country?! Spend decades fighting for freedoms and civil rights, then turn around and fight to undo them in the name of “freedom”. Stop the world, I wanna get off.

  7. As this blogger points out:

    It is unlikely that anyone could effectively use legislation like this to justify discrimination, since the case has already been made that the government has the right to protect people from discrimination even when the latter is purportedly justified by religion. The real problem with this legislation is that it puts the onus on the government to justify in each and every case that it has a justified reason for “burdening” the religious freedom not just of individuals, but of private corporations. And so, even if current laws ultimately protect victims of discrimination, the new legislation will probably at the very least lead to costly legal battles before those laws are upheld in a variety of specific cases

    1. But to the not wealthy, about 85% – 90% of the population, “costly legal battle” is the same thing as losing, or rather, not even being able to start a legal battle. With very, very few exceptions.

    1. There has to be a case of discrimination in order to challenge it, though, and it would probably take more than a baker refusing to do a same-sex wedding cake to wring a fifth vote out of the god-bothering wing nut majority.

      1. I remember all too well the backlash caused by the passage of Amendment 2. Stephen Fry gave Colorado the short shrift just a few years ago… 20 years after the fact, despite it getting torn down shortly after (with Scalia, Rehnquist & Thomas predictably dissenting).

        Naturally the peckerwoods who thought up this brilliant idea have learned a thing or two about the Colorado experience, and decided to word it as a religious affirmation, instead of narrowly defining who would get discriminated against. You can be sure that if a case makes it to the Supremes, it would be split right along ideological lines. I daresay, depending on the specifics, the law might even be upheld.

    2. After the case is first heard in federal district court, it can then be appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has total discretion as to whether or not it wants to rule on the case or not. So the answer to your question is yes, the case could eventually be heard the U.S. Supreme Court 7 to 10 years from now, if they decide they want to hear it.

  8. Just a thought: people locked in conservative states often find top scientists and public intellectuals to be a much needed oasis.

    Note that Richard Dawkins spoke in Oklahoma which, on average, is more regressive than Indiana. His talk was very well received (don’t have the link for it)

    1. yes, but that can lead to the creation of a sine wave, where the moral arc bends towards and then away from justice, which actually sounds a bit like what we’re experiencing, now that I think about it. Just have to keep jumping until it bends back the other way I guess.

  9. Interesting implications. If I were a Hindu Brahmin living in Indiana, then under my religious freedom, I have right not to serve any “Shudras” – which loosely translated means people engaged in unclean services. So I can refuse to serve a janitor or a butcher, or disallow them from entering my premises or my temple.

  10. Reported via Reuters:”Republican Governor Mike Pence said he personally opposes needle-exchange programs but signed an emergency order allowing one recommended by federal health officials to be used in Scott County,..” (where an HIV outbreak is scary bad).

    I guess putting aside your personal beliefs in order to do what is best for all has its limits.

  11. Next up, Indiana will be changing its name to Alabama. This law will never hold up at least not for long. Even though this ignorant fellow in Indiana thinks this is part of his constitutional rights, he is dead wrong. If he could read, and that is doubtful, he should look at the 14th Amendment. This is the one that will remove his discriminatory ways. Kind of the same way it did for other minorities.

    Funny how these people look to their bibles to find what they think is in the constitution. It’s kind of a religious constitution that they have illusions about every day.

  12. This is a disgusting development.

    I want a special law making it legal for me to hate and discriminate against people because my religion tells me I should hate them.

    Gakkkk! Morons.

    On a happier note, the company I work for just announced that it has signed (along with 300 other US companies) an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court calling for (directly) nationwide recognition of same-sex unions (be they civil unions or marriages).

    And, the state I live in, 2 years ago, legalized same-sex marriages by statute.

    Progress is being made. We saw the tide turn on this issue in the summer and fall of 2012 (in the US). The final result — national recognition — seems inevitable to me. It may take time — or the SCOTUS may decide this year that what they decided about the (execrably named) DOMA applies to all laws. We can hope for that.

  13. I think this is a good test. This will backfire and businesses that discriminate will stir and outrage and will go bankrupt and out of business, as they should. If there is a super christian business that attract enough of a backward clientele, let it stand alone and be shunned by everyone else. This is not an example of the moral arc swaying backwards because it will be met with widespread disgust and the person or persons practicing the discrimination will suffer in the wallet and socially.

    1. Oddly enough, ‘bigoted’ businesses usually don’t feel much backlash about their bigotry over time (Hobby Lobby, Chick Filet)

      1. Exactly my thought. Big corporations whose founders have ‘closely held’ religion based bigotry can find a sympathetic market of clients. I will not go to our local Hobby Lobby (though they have lots of nice toy airplanes, dammit), but their parking lot is busy.

  14. The furor surrounding this bill is disproportionate to what the bill actually says–it certainly does not ‘legalize discrimination,’ but it does make anti-discrimination statutes at the municipal level harder to enforce. What’s bizarre to me is that 19 other states and the federal government have RFRA in place, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The only real difference with Indiana’s version is that it can be used between private parties (though state action still must be complained of). I actually supported RFRA as a way to undo Employment Division v. Smith, which I still think is one of the most awful and hypocritical of Justice Scalia’s decisions, but, as things often do, that has now come around to bit me in the rear.

    1. Aelfric: you might want to explain how you parse this to be anything but legalized discrimination. On the face of it, I can’t differentiate it from a lunch counter refusing to serve on the basis of sincerely-held racist beliefs..

      1. My apologies. You have to read the actual text of the law. I think (?) I’m allowed to post a PDF link, if not, please remove this and Ceiling Cat forgive me, but it’s available here:

        What it basically says, like all other RFRA bills, is that when a person’s exercise o religion is burdened by a law, the government must show that the goal of said law is a compelling government interest and that the law is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that goal. Nothing about discrimination. This was the law everywhere from 1963 until 1990 thanks to Supreme Court precedent. It says nothing about discrimination. I, for one, think even most conservative judges would find that anti-discrimination laws pass this test.

          1. Aelfric

            I’d have to think that the Hasidic jew who wants to avoid being seated with women [Jerry’s example] IS being “burdened”, and I’d be surprised if this law doesn’t support them… but I think that privileging this religious prejudice is unjust to the affected parties around them.

            Similarly for the server whose antipathy for mixed-race families is religiously based doesn’t have a “burden”?

            Of course, this is “really” about religiously bigoted wedding caterers and photographers, so that’s different??

            Perhaps the law makes distinctions, but if so, it seems you’d want to explain this.

            I don’t want to make this personal, but I thought you could explain, not just link and make us do the work. Why not illuminate this for us?

            1. I didn’t intend to make you do the work. It’s just that the actual text of the law is an important component. The burden here must be imposed by a governmental entity. The Hasidic airline passenger is affected in no way by this law; there’s no government action. Similarly, a mixed-race person would be covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which most definitely trumps this Indiana bill. The way this law was sold to the bigots was as a way to get around mandated non-discrimination laws.

              This might, in theory be true, however it has not yet happened at the federal level or in the 19 other states that have RFRA laws, and those started 25 years ago. But the Indiana law does not mean the discriminator gets away with it because of religion; it means the government must make a showing with regard to the law.

              Let me offer a hypothetical situation: Indianapolis passes a law saying restaurants cannot discriminate against same-sex couples. Jackass Bar and Grill refuses service to John and Jay Doe. John and Jay sue under the Indianapolis statute (more likely an ordinance, but whatever). Jackass Bar and Grill points to this law, saying they are Southern Baptists and it is burdening their free exercise of religion. At that point, the City of Indianapolis will intervene to defend its statute. If it can show that the law serves a compelling government interest, and is the least restrictive means to achieve that interest, the law stands and Jackass loses. If it cannot, then Jackass wins and the law is struck down.

              I am not saying it is a good law, merely that it is not quite the apocalypse it is being sold as. The private party clause and the fee-switching is problematic. But, essentially, this was sold to the religious with the assumption that protecting the LGBTQ community would not be seen as a “compelling state interest,” and I think that is wrong and getting more wrong by the day, even within the conservative judiciary. I hope that makes things a bit clearer.

  15. Maybe if we all demanded not to sit next to any religious people of any stripe we’d all get moved up to First Class…no, probably not…

    What IS this governor thinking???

    Carmen Dingle says 🐾🐾- voting with her feet.

  16. Of course these people who agree with this law feel attacked – because society no longer accepts their backward, bronze aged ideas and the population is starting to question what was once forbidden to question – religion & religious privilege.

    I hope other states boycott Indiana for this behaviour but I hope Jerry still goes there because Indiana needs people like Jerry!

  17. The CEO of Salesforce responded by canceling all company events in Indiana which would involve employees traveling there from other states. I bet they won’t be the only company that does this.

    How do these people face their gay relatives and friends after pulling this sh**t? Trolls.

      1. It would be nice if Yelp removed all comments from Indiana businesses and posted banners that stated they will not promote businesses in Indiana due to their legalized discrimination.

    1. Well, at least there is hope for corporations. Not that I ever thought all corporations are bad, I work for a pretty good one. They do seem roughly in line with the average person though.

  18. To make matters worse, the uber-odious James Inhofe introduced a federal version of this bill. People like Inhofe who claim to be oppressed grant themselves the right to discriminate against the truly oppressed. The Amendment 381 “would seek to prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals, businesses, or organizations based on their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding abortion or marriage.” That is such vague and inane wording; I suppose one could discriminate against someone who is a divorcee as an adulterer. Sometimes it feels good to resort to the ad hominem…this guy (like Pence) is a fucking asshole.

    1. “Inhofe is a fucking asshole” is not an ad hominem, just a (justified) insult.

      “Inhofe is a fucking asshole and so his conclusion is wrong.” is an ad hominem (wrt a specific argument.)

  19. This story hasn’t been covered all that thoroughly, but it is relevant regarding the right to discriminate based on religion and free speech

    According to Brown, “hundreds” of mail carriers complained about Sears’ flyer. One temporary worker – who is Jewish – refused to deliver it, saying it was offensive to his religion.

    The newsletter, titled Your Ward News, features images of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne dressed up as Chairman Mao, questions the science behind vaccines and refers to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau as a “rabid anti-Semite who admired Hitler.”

    “We started getting calls from carriers as soon as it showed up,” said Mark Brown with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

    Canada Post, however, is not backing down.

    1. I think I agree with CP. If you put a stamp on it, it gets delivered, unless it has prohibited material in it and by that I mean dangerous chemicals and the like, not speech.

      In addition, I’m totally against hate speech laws of any kind. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” is very true. There are plenty of remedies available already if you cross the lines like libel laws. Inciting to riot is illegal. As soon as we get into trying to decide what is hateful and what isn’t, there is trouble.

      1. Note that in Canada we have “hate speech” laws – which have been successfully used against neoNazis.

        (I leave the debate over whether we should for another time.)

  20. Christians in the US aren’t losing their religious freedom, they’re losing their long held ability to force their views on others. This Act is their effort to restore their privileged place, which they actually haven’t lost. Yet.

    It’s also another example of the ongoing privilege of religion over other beliefs. No one thinks a person’s closely held beliefs in relation to communism, capitalism, politics, white supremacy, or anything else entitles those beliefs to special legal protection, so why religion? Especially when religion, which is a choice, calls for discrimination against a group for something they can’t choose, such as their sexuality.

    This should not be happening in a country that holds itself up as a bastion of freedom for all. This law privileges the extremely religious over others.

  21. There’s no way this holds up to a legal challenge. And in the meantime it’ll lead to all sorts of unintended consequences when people of _other_ religions (ie, not Christian) assert their rights in ways that embarrass the ignorant bigots who wrote this law while reminding them what religious freedom actually means.

  22. Kindergarteners are running the country.

    Right-wing bigots: what skin is it off your nose if gay people are allowed to get married? Why can’t you just be a decent human being and treat them equally? Grow the fuck up.

    1. You’ve just insulted at least the half of all kindergarteners that are of above median intelligence.

      I spent a very miserable summer in Indiana sometime in the mid-1970s. Crazies everywhere (even had a gun pulled on me). The thing I remember best is one resident referring to Anderson and Muncie as “the armpits of the United States”.

      The mom of my best friend, living in Southern California, often said that Indiana was a great place to be from.

  23. Heather:

    You forgot to put the first sentence in bold, so I’m doing it for you:

    Christians in the US aren’t losing their religious freedom, they’re losing their long held ability to force their views on others.

    The relevant cartoon.

        1. To put it more succinctly:
          Xtians aren’t losing their rights; they’re losing their priveleges.

  24. Note that we have a vaguely similar discussion pending in Ontario. (!)

    Some physicians are claiming the right to refuse even referrals if the procedure or treatment violates their “conscience”. Read: this is code for abortion, contraception, etc. Sigh.

    No law yet, either way, but stay vigilant. CFI Ottawa (and maybe national CFI and CFI Toronto too) may get involved, but I don’t think there’s anything official yet.

Leave a Reply