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Hit Indiana in the Pocketbook, Cultural Liberals Say After Religious Freedom Law Passes

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Manifestación ante el Congreso de Colombia en abril de 2013

Mark Stricherz - published on 04/01/15

Polarization intensifies as many GOP leaders defend the law

And on the fourth day, cultural progressives vowed retribution against Indiana for the state’s new religious freedom law. West Coast big-city mayors, a blue-state governor, entertainers, and several corporations said they would boycott or are considering boycotting the Hoosier State because of the controversial statute that was signed into law Thursday.

Reporters Sandhya Somashekhar and Mark Berman of The Washington Post summarized the backlash from urban, corporate and progressive institutions this way:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) wrote a letter to the
Indianapolis Star inviting business leaders troubled by the law to move to Virginia.The president of the NCAA hinted that the Indiana-based athletic organization may stop holding major events there. And the rock band Wilco canceled a May 7 show in Indianapolis.

In addition, the Star devoted its entire front page Tuesday to an editorial about the law under the headline “FIX THIS NOW.”

The issue could have tremendous economic consequences in Indiana. Many companies have expressed displeasure with the law, including drugmaker Eli Lilly, one of the state’s largest employers and a frequent donor to local political candidates. Angie’s List, also based in Indiana, has halted expansion plans over the act. Monday, Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. announced their opposition to Indiana’s law and similar proposals.

By contrast, cultural conservatives stood their ground in defense of the law. Nearly all of the presumptive Republican presidential candidates said or have said they support Indiana’s law, according to Fox News.

Indiana lawmakers who voted for the bill conceded the rhetoric of the issue to their opponents. Two statehouse leaders said they would clarify the law to protect gays from discrimination. Yet state lawmakers have not gone the extra step and said they would consider an antidiscrimination bill for the state. Indiana is one of 30 states without an antidiscrimination law for gays and lesbians, according to the ACLU.

The polarization over Indiana’s law reflects two competing ideas about gay rights and traditional marriage. Liberals say that civil rights for gays are no different than civil rights for blacks. Conservatives reject the comparison and say that religious people should not be coerced into supporting gay marriage.

How will Indiana’s new law affect religious businesses, associations, and groups? According to Ramesh Ponnuru of Bloomberg, the statute creates a legal claim for aggrieved parties but does not guarantee they would prevail in court:

The Indiana law … explicitly protects corporate "persons" in their exercise of religious freedom and it applies to legal cases in which the government is not a party. Other religious-freedom laws haven’t spelled out these points but have sometimes been read to include them. Under the Indiana law, then, an individual filing a discrimination case against a company could run up against a company’s claim that it had a religious duty to discriminate.

In theory, the application of the religious-freedom defense to litigation by private parties makes sense: The point of the religious-freedom protection is to keep government policy from imposing unnecessary burdens on religious practice, and so it shouldn’t matter if it’s an individual who is trying to get the policy applied.

But it’s important to remember that these religious-freedom laws only create a legal claim for people who object to the application of a law. They don’t guarantee that those claims will prevail — and, in practice, such claims haven’t fared well in court.

HomosexualityPoliticsReligious Freedom
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