This week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a measure that purports to protect the “religious freedom” of Indianans. The crux of the law stipulates that individuals who are sued for discrimination say, may invoke their religious principles as a defense. While from 30,000 feet this might seem like a reasonable provision, the intent of the law is obvious – to allow businesses who wish to do so to discriminate openly against those whose personal relationship affinities are unacceptable to the bill’s sponsors and supporters.
The NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis, responded swiftly to the law’s passage. From Dan Wetzel’s column praising the NCAA’s swift and strong stance, here’s part of the statement:
“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement issued immediately after Pence signed the law. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.
“We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” the statement continued. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
Wetzel also called on the NFL, which holds its annual combine in Indianapolis and has sited Super Bowls there, to stop doing business with the state until it repeals the law. As he rightly noted, Governor Pence’s insistence, when signing the law, that this isn’t “old time” discrimination, is a joke. That’s precisely what it is. Pence is just too much of a coward even to own the obvious purpose of the bill, as his previous mealy-mouthed actions with respect to gay marriage make evident.
There is little doubt that NFL pressure last year – specifically a promise to ‘re-think’ Super Bowl siting – played a role in prompting Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar law there. As it happens, the NCAA Final Four takes place in Indianapolis next weekend. There seems little prospect that, on such short notice, that event would be moved, though the scheduled location of the 2021 Final Four is certainly now in doubt.
In any event, the Indiana law may ultimately not pass constitutional muster. In the meantime, there are other forms of freedom that can be exercised in response to this transparent act of bigotry.