Unless you’ve have just come out of a month long coma chances are you’ve at least heard of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that was signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last week. This egregiously named law states that business owners reserve the right to discriminate and refuse service to customers identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender on the grounds that associating with LGBT persons is against their religious beliefs. Considering that it’s 2015 and the RFRA sounds dangerously similar to the Jim Crow laws of the 1860s, most people didn’t actually expect this law to pass at all. So when it did pass the country’s backlash was jarring to say the least. From celebrities to sports teams to other state governments, everyone is getting in on the Indiana-shaming fun.
Surprisingly, some of the most vocal opposition to Indiana’s RFRA law is coming from all corners of the sports world. March Madness is drawing to a close as the bracket is down to the Final Four and the tournament’s host city happens to be none other than Indianapolis. One of the four teams still remaining in the tournament is Duke University and they’ve made themselves the first of the Final Four schools to publicly denounce the religious freedom law. Duke’s vice president of public affairs, Michael Schoenfeld, released a statement on March 30 stating that Duke shared the NCAA’s concerns over the RFRA. Wasting no time in placing itself opposite of Indiana’s RFRA views, the school stated “Duke University continues to stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal and inclusive world, and we deplore any effort to legislate bias and discrimination.”
Another sports institution that has come out against the RFRA is NASCAR. With the Indy 500 being the only time anyone pretends to care about Indiana, NASCAR’s condemnation could prove extremely damaging to the state. In an official statement the stock car racing organization said “We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.” NASCAR’s statement came after Gov. Pence held a press conference saying he would fix the law to clarify that it does not condone discrimination. No word yet if NASCAR has any plans to take the Indy out of the Indy 500.
The RFRA is so politically suicidal that even other cities want to to put themselves as far away from it as possible. Both Seattle and San Francisco the city with the highest population of people identifying as non-heterosexual, have imposed a ban which prohibits municipal employees from travelling to Indiana on the city’s dollar. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that Indiana’s new law doesn’t reflect the values of Seattle and that Seattle has been a leader in the fight to protect civil rights and ensure “equality for all people regardless of who you are or who you love.”
Following closely in suit, San Fransisco applied the same ban and has been publically backed by some of the country’s most prominent technology leaders including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who implied on March 26 that the highly popular crowdsourced review website is going to pull out of Indiana completely. Outside of Silicon Valley, major clothing companies Gap Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. were also quick to call for a repeal of the RFRA.
Seattle and San Francisco could be the first of potentially countless cities to impose travel bans on Indiana for municipal employees. Their example has certainly inspired others to issue bans of their own. For instance Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy not only placed a statewide ban on municipal employees travelling to Indiana he called Mike Pence a bigot on national television. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Malloy said “When you see a bigot, you have to call him on it.”
Two of Indiana’s homegrown companies have also made it a point to disassociate from the state. The popular business search tool Angie’s List has pulled a campus expansion project in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, $4 billion software company Salesforce announced plans to “dramatically reduce” their investment in the state as a direct result of the RFRA.
With the economic rug being pulled out from under it, one has to wonder just how worth it passing the RFRA was to Indiana. The state is losing business at an almost hilarious rate while other cities are all too eager to welcome the fallout. Cincinnati made its own statement telling all those pulling out of Indiana to come to Cincinnati instead for all the inclusive, tolerant businesses they can handle- way to capitalize, Cincinnati!
No controversy is complete without hearing what celebrities have to say, and thankfully none of them have come out in enthusiastic support of RFRA. Actually, the rich and the famous seem pretty mad about it. Openly gay actor George Takei took to his Facebook page saying that he felt outraged. Takei lamented that Indiana has made it clear that people like himself are not welcome there. The critique added a much needed human element to the impact of the RFRA. Not long after Takei’s post Miley Cyrus and Ashton Kutcher made it clear that they stand behind him and all of the LGBT community wholeheartedly. Cyrus took to Twitter to say what’s been on everyone’s mind by tweeting “You’re an a**hole[Gov. Mike Pence]…” Thank you, Miley.
But through all the anger this dumb law has caused there is a silver lining. In their haste to dehumanize as many LGBT people in Indiana as they possibly could, the legislators left the bill’s wording pretty loose. Indiana attorney Abdul-Hakim Shabazz wasted no time in pointing out that while marijuana use is still illegal in the state, one could argue that weed is a part of their religious practices and it would therefore be protected under the RFRA. The next step? Establishing the first church of cannabis, which Bill Levin went right ahead and did. Thanks to the RFRA, his registration of the new church was approved. Levin is humbly asking for donations of $4.20 to support his non-profit, all-awesome church.