By Clara Raftery
A new piece of legislation signed in Indiana in late March by Republican governor Mike Pence has caused large-scale controversy and opposition in the past few weeks. Called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law states that the government is not allowed to ‘impose’ itself onto an individual’s ability to follow their religious beliefs, and if it does have a reason to do so, it must interfere in the “least restrictive” way possible. This has caused outrage amongst many communities, in Indiana and otherwise, because the law is believed to justify legal discrimination against the LGBT+ community. However, Pence himself has claimed that the law is not a “license to discriminate”, and only serves as protection for citizens under state law. He stated that the RFRA “only provides a mechanism to address claims”, and not a “license for private parties to deny services.” Some who support the law point out that the law is simply replicating the federal law protecting religious freedom effective in 20 states, but those opposed retaliate saying that the Indiana law extends to cushion private companies, and opens new opportunities for discrimination not only on an individual level, but on a corporate one as well.
Resistance has snowballed in various social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the #BoycottIndiana and similar slogans have been shared by several public figures, such as George Takei, Tim Cook (the CEO of Apple), and Jeremy Stoppelman (the CEO of Yelp). Throughout Indiana there have been marches and rallies against the law, and various municipal groups, companies, and state governments are threatening to cut off any business partnerships with the state. Salesforce, a tech company rooted in San Francisco, has decided to diminish its business investments in Indiana, and is refusing to send employees out to work in the state. The National College Athletic Association expressed unease over the issue, as the men’s basketball Final Four was scheduled to commence in Indianapolis. The organization assured the public that its affiliates would do all they could to assure that athletes and fans would not be affected adversely by the law. The LGBT Sports Coalition, however, did not feel that equality would be guaranteed at any sporting event based in Indiana, especially for LGBT+ individuals planning on participating or attending. The group singled out various events to be relocated, including the NCAA’s Women’s Final Four basketball tournament, scheduled for next year. Similarly, supporters of the LGBT Athletic Association also commented on the legislation, asking for all sporting events occurring in Indiana to be moved to other locations. This issue continues to run at the forefront of equality activism efforts, especially as similar laws are passed in other states. Indiana’s controversy has been echoed in the recent verification of a religious freedom bill in Arkansas, which was passed apprehensively by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson, who feared receiving a response similar to Indiana’s. Indiana’s law, while having been expected by governor Pence to receive little criticism, has garnered mass denunciation that shows no sign of slowing as the country rallies for the advancement of equal rights.