Convention and Corporate Backlash Causes Indiana to Rethink New Religious-Freedom Law
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has called for the quick passage of new legislation to prevent the state's recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act from being used as a vehicle for discrimination. The move comes in the wake of a fierce backlash from corporations and conventions threatening to pull their business from the state because of the act, widely seen as potentially discriminatory toward gays and lesbians. Speaking in a live press conference early Tuesday, Pence said that because of what he deemed a "mischaracterization" of the act, "I've come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this legislation does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone."
Both the Convention Industry Council and ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership have let lawmakers in Indiana know their positions against the law. Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, the CEO of the CIC, wrote, "On behalf of the Convention Industry Council, I respectfully request that your office continue to work with the general assembly and the hospitality community in the state to adopt corrective language that clarifies that the law does not allow discrimination of any kind against any segment of the population. The Convention Industry Council represents 33 associations in the meetings, conventions, exhibitions and travel industry who collectively represent more than 103,500 individuals and 19,500 firms and properties involved in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry. An unintended consequence of this law has been the reaction of many businesses who are considering not holding future meetings and events in Indiana. Not only would this be harmful to the economic well-being of the state, but it would injure the very people who are employed by the hospitality industry and who may be subject to discrimination due to this legislation."
ASAE's statement included: "ASAE is committed to diversity and inclusion practices within all of our meetings and events. Laws that permit discrimination are not only regressive, they put our members at risk of being denied service anywhere from restaurants to meetings and convention facilities. This sends a harmful message that fairness, equality and the principles of our Constitution are secondary to personal prejudice. I strongly encourage Governor Pence and Indiana policymakers to amend this legislation to include civil rights protections into the bill."
At least three major conventions threatened to cancel over the religious-freedom law, including the 2017 Disciples of Christ as well as Gen Con, a gaming convention that is Indianapolis' largest annual event. At the news conference, Pence said he wanted the measure to be changed by week's end, though he denied the original law would allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians.