Indiana’s Mess

March 29, 2015

Republican Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26. The law allows religious beliefs to trump individual rights; if it matters at all—more below—it will likely impact the LBGT community most greatly.

Why was this law passed? Was there a problem? Somebody’s religious rights being trampled? You decide, based on a brief Q and A between Governor Pence and conservative talk show host Greg Garrison:

Garrison: Just real quickly – Is the answer to my question about whether or not religious freedom has been threatened in Indiana yes or is it no?

Governor Pence: I’m not aware of cases and controversies. I mean as I travel around the state one thing I know for sure —Hoosier hospitality is the greatest in the nation. Hoosiers are loving, caring, generous to a fault. People that have strong hearts, strong values. But this isn’t about any present controversy as much as some in the media want to make it about. It’s about making sure that Hoosiers have the same protections in our state courts as they have in federal courts and as 30 other states have.

Okay. So it’s just about making sure people in Indiana—at least those people who fear G-d and don’t engage in activities some people don’t like—don’t have to deal with people whose ways they don’t like. And this seemed like a good time to make sure those rights—which don’t seem to be at issue at all—are protected? Instead of, say, dealing with the clear and present possibility that 192,000 Indianans will lose $62m per month in insurance subsidies if the plaintiffs prevail in King v. Burwell.

In fact, passing the RFRA was all about pandering to a particular group of people in Indiana. The same sector tried to enact SB 1062 in Arizona about a year ago. The bill passed both houses of the legislature, but then Governor Jan Brewer vetoed it.

So what’s happening now in Indiana? Well, I think the technical term is Sh*t Storm. Salesforce will not send employees or customers to Indiana, and will be doing a “slow go” with respect to the recent acquisition of ExactTarget. (For details read Salesforce abandons all future Indiana plans following passage of SB 101 by Sam Machkovech for arstechnica.) Jim Gardner’s piece for the San Francisco Business Times, Other tech giants join Salesforce CEO in slamming new Indiana law, provides more information. Angie’s List, the NCAA, and Eli Lilly—all major Indianapolis employers—are now speaking up.

As of late Saturday afternoon, Governor Pence has decided to push for legislation to “clarify” that the new law “does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.” Gee, I wonder why? (Tim Swarens has the story for the Indianapolis Star.)

Solutions in search of problems often create their own set of problems. Here, Governor Pence wanted to pander and the warnings he ignored before he signed the bill suggest a “no one’s telling me what to do” attitude. That often feels good in the moment. Not so much when large employers tell you they’re leaving, not coming, not spending money, etc.

I suspect the worries about SB 101 are a bit overblown. In the 21+ years during which the federal RFRA has been on the books I have never encountered a case directly or indirectly, and don’t know an attorney who has, but for Clint Bolick at the Goldwater Institute. Lawsuits cost money, they involve risk, and for most people they aren’t worth the bother.

The overblown nature of worries, however, cuts both ways. If there won’t be many/hardly any lawsuits, why write, pass, and sign the bill? This was a dog whistle, a message to those whose votes are tied to religious values that they matter. Alas, the markets are speaking, loudly, leaving Governor Pence wishing, maybe, that he’d left that barely audible whistle in his pocket.

Stay tuned, and listen for the whistling which comes from the Ted Cruz for President campaign. Keep blowing, Senator! Please!!!

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