Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Religious freedom bumps into gay rights in Ind.

A new Indiana law, signed by Gov Mike Pence last week, will allow business owners who don’t support homosexuality because of religious beliefs to refuse to serve a customer whose sexual orientation significantly burdens their free exercise of those beliefs, CNN reports.

A joke posted on Facebook

The intention of the law was not to discriminate, Mr Pence contends, but rather to reinforce a business owner’s legal right to defend his or her religious beliefs and practices, even if that means not doing business with someone whose beliefs he or she doesn’t agree with. But the language is somewhat vague and may lead to unintended consequences of discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, many of whom come to Indiana frequently for conferences, festivals, and even national school events.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament, for example, will play its Final Four games in Indianapolis in about a week, and officials at the NCAA expressed concern about the impact this new law will have on future business conducted by the association.

“We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees,” CNN quoted NCAA President Mark Emmert as saying in a statement.

Under Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, business owners who object to homosexuality on religious grounds can turn away gay, lesbian, and transgender customers. Furthermore, Indiana has no law protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Laws like this are on the books in many states, but Indiana’s law is very broad in comparison with similar laws in other states. Still, it may not be so bad.

Some legal experts think the law will protect, say, a florist who refuses to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage, but it’s unlikely to be powerful enough to defend a restaurant owner who refuses to serve a gay couple who want to sit down for a bite to eat, according to a sidebar story on CNN. Serving someone a burger just doesn’t burden a business owner’s religious beliefs against homosexuality as significantly as providing flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony would.

For Illinois marching bands, Indianapolis is prominent

Every November, more than 10,000 students in about 90 high school marching bands descend on Indianapolis, as do their families, friends, teachers, and other fans, for the Bands of America Grand National Championships.

I have to wonder if Indianapolis-area businesses would refuse to serve or otherwise discriminate against marching band students they believe to be gay.

Probably not, because that would be bad for business, and it’s unlikely that serving food at a restaurant, say, would place a “significant burden” on the religious beliefs of restaurant owners. But some of them might now feel they have a right to refuse service, and that could lead to discrimination against students and their families.

Indiana courts might not support a restaurant owner who uses this law to deny food to a gay customer, but by the time any visiting parent brings a discrimination suit against a Subway owner in Indianapolis, the damage will have already been done and a band student will have been denied a meal of his or her choice.

Bands of America is a program run by Music for All, which, like the NCAA, is based in Indianapolis. Voxitatis contacted Music for All officials for this story on March 27 to ask if they might consider pulling the Grand National Championships out of Indianapolis.

Deb Laferty Asbill, MFA’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the organization “would not like to make any comment at this time.”

From humble beginnings at a Wisconsin college in the mid-1970s, the organization this fall will celebrate 40 years of positively life-changing experiences through music for hundreds of thousands of students across the country.

What a great time to make a statement about the treatment of those students!

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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  1. The New York Times reports that “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, a Democrat, has said he plans to sign a similar executive order banning state-funded travel.”

    This means that public schools in Connecticut will not be able to bring their marching bands to the Grand Nationals as long as the GNs are in Indiana—unless they raise all the money outside of school control. It’ll be tricky to prove they did that, since any booster organization wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the school (and, of course, salaries and band equipment come from state funds).

    Businesses and other government leaders, who control purse strings, are expected to follow suit. Already the mayors of San Francisco and Seattle have said they will not be funding any city-sponsored travel to Indiana.

  2. Schools need to celebrate (and defend) inclusion and diversity.

    The NCAA, which serves colleges and universities in the US, is considering moving its operations and future tournaments out of Indiana, the New York Times reports.

    “We have to be able to conduct our affairs and our tournaments in an environment that reflects the values of inclusiveness and diversity,” the paper quoted NCAA President Mark Emmert as saying. “Inclusion and diversity are real touchstone values in higher education.”

    Inclusion and diversity are also touchstone values in high school, middle school, and elementary school education. Schools have been touting the rewards of inclusion and diversity for a long time now.

    The US Department of Education, for example, in a report entitled “Schools with Ideas That Work,” praised Jenks West Elementary School in Jenks, Okla., by writing, “Jenks West Elementary is dedicated to celebrating diversity among kindergartners through fourth graders in an inclusive environment. … The school’s goal is to serve all students by providing for their academic, social, physical, and emotional well being. Students with and without disabilities are valued by nurturing educators who strive to create a partnership with our parents. West Elementary is a school where everyone succeeds together.”

    That’s the idea. Any organization that claims to support our schools and the mission of our schools should also support the message of diversity and inclusion. And they should be clear about that support.

    The Indiana law, at the very least, is vague and fuzzy in that support. For example, we find in Section 9: “A person [including corporations, businesses, etc.] whose exercise of religion [which includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief—i.e., whatever you happen to believe] has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened [in other words, if it is the opinion of the business owner that someone is probably going to burden his religious beliefs, even if the burdening hasn’t occurred yet], by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding [so the person who was discriminated against wouldn’t win a lawsuit against the business owner who discriminated against him or her] …”

    This is why I say, anyone who supports this law does not support our public schools. More importantly, for Indiana, we need to work together to protect religious freedom, which is largely guaranteed in the First Amendment anyway, in such a way that fosters inclusion rather than exclusion, that fosters diversity rather than homogeneity, and that fosters love rather than hate.

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