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March 26, 2015

Groups, Businesses Respond to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Yesterday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 101 into law, which the Indianapolis Star says will, in theory, "protect people and business owners with strong religious beliefs from government intrusion." Critics, however, have claimed that the new bill could allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons--and the state's meetings and business travel scene may suffer as a result.

According to the Star, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is raising concerns that the measure could hurt the city's lucrative convention business and tarnish the state's image as a welcoming place. Three conventions threatened to pull out of Indianapolis if Pence signed the measure, including Gen Con, one of the largest gaming conventions in the country,  which had a record attendance of 56,614 people last year.

“Gen Con proudly welcomes a diverse attendee base, made up of different ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds,” Gen Con wrote in a letter to Indiana Governor Mike Pence as reprinted on tech website Digital Trends. “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years."

CNBC reported that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) sent a letter to Pence on Wednesday threatening to cancel its 2017 convention in the city, where it has been held for several years for an economic impact of $6 million. "Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry," Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star. Adams said the Disciples of Christ would instead seek a host city that is "hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees," and that he expected about 8,000 to attend in 2017.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, meanwhile, told CBS that he does not want his employees "subjected to discrimination as part of their work" for the San Francisco-based company, and he is cancelling all required travel to the state of Indiana.

As the Star noted, seven of the 10 largest convention centers are in six states with a similar law or provision in its constitution: Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. Last year, the issue caused controversy in Arizona when the state legislature attempted to broaden its existing religious freedom law. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the measure after gay rights groups, convention planners and others raised objections or threatened to pull out of the state.

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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