Now that Indiana Governor Mike Pence has signed a new law that allows business owners to practice their religious faiths, gay rights supporters have threatened that the Hoosier State should not be allowed to host any major sporting events as long as the law is in place.
Indian’s State Bill 568 states:
… a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides that a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a state or local government action may assert the burden as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding. Allows a person who asserts a burden as a claim or defense to obtain appropriate relief, including: (1) injunctive relief; (2) declaratory relief; (3) compensatory damages; and (4) recovery of court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
In practice, according to the bill’s opponents, this would mean that religious businesses could choose not to serve gay customers, which they term discrimination, despite the fact that businesses might feel that they were compromising their religious beliefs if they, say, were forced to photograph a gay wedding, or participated in some activity contrary to their religious precepts.
Pence, defending his actions, said, “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”
Nancy Armour, writing for the IndyStar, wrote, “The NCAA should be applauded for swiftly and strongly expressing its disapproval of Indiana’s new law that cloaks discrimination in ‘religious freedom.’ She segued to an attack on Indiana and governor Mike Pence for signing the bill: “But the NCAA can – and should – tell Indiana lawmakers that their prejudice and mean-spiritedness has cost the state the privilege of hosting any other collegiate sporting event.”
Other states won Armour’s approval: “The 2021 men’s Final Four that was awarded to Indianapolis last fall? That will be going to a more enlightened state, like Minnesota.” Then, the name-calling: “ … the NCAA ought to tell Gov. Mike Pence and his lunatic-fringe lawmakers that it no longer feels at home in Indiana and will look at moving its headquarters from Indianapolis to a state where God-given diversity is something to be celebrated rather than feared.” Armour even used Barack Obama’s oft-stated favorite phrase to vilify supporters of the bill, calling them “on the wrong side of history.”
NCAA president Mark Emmert, whose offices are in Indianapolis, quickly moved to accommodate those upset with Indiana’s decision, stating, “The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.” He added, “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. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
The LGBT Sports Coalition issued a statement to the NCAA, the Big Ten, the NFL, USA Diving, and USA Gymnastics, telling them to yank any events from Indiana scheduled between now and the summer of 2016. The Big Ten’s football championship game is scheduled to be played at Lucas Oil Field until 2021 and its men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2020 and 2022. The Big Ten women’s basketball tournament is scheduled for Indianapolis from 2017 to 2022. The Final Four is set for 2021 in Indianapolis; the Women’s Final Four for 2016. Indianapolis is trying to land the 2019 Super Bowl.