KRAVITZ BLOG: Religious freedom bill may hurt Indy's sports, convention business

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Bob Kravitz
What's next? Boycotts of Indiana, and Indianapolis in particular, when it comes to hosting sporting events (like the Final Four) and conventions?

The "religious freedom bill'' is this close to getting passed, and not only does it leave me queasy on a personal level, it makes me wonder if events and other conventions will look differently at one of the best sports/convention towns in the country.

Jason Collins, the openly gay basketball player, tweeted this the other day: "@GovPenceIN, is it going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me and others when we come to the Final Four?''

Um, yes, Jason, it will be. Once it's signed into law – and there's every reason to believe this controversial and wrong-headed law will make it to Pence's desk in short order – the answer is, yes, businesses will have the right to discriminate. The only thing that will be missing with be a Jim Crow-like "No LGBT Allowed'' sign over businesses, even if it's implied.

"It basically says to a group of people, you're second rate, you don't matter, and if you walk into my store, I don't have to serve you,'' Minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, told the Indianapolis Star.

I can wrap my head around the lack of Sunday alcohol sales – sort of – but I don't understand this law in the early part of the 21st century. I don't understand it here, and don't understand it in the 19 other states that have some form of this law on the books.

If I'm Indiana and Indianapolis, and I'm a business person, I want to put out an "Everybody is Welcome'' sign on my door. I want people to know what great hosts we are, how we open our Midwestern arms to all who grace our city, whether for business or a convention or a sporting event.

"We came out against the bill about two weeks ago, joined several other organizations who are fighting this bill," said Chris Gahl of VisitIndy. "We feel like anything that could be viewed as making Indy inhospitable or unwelcoming could impact our ability to book future business. We've been fielding calls all day from potential visitors and convention people who are concerned about this. We're not in the business of being a political organization, but anything that impacts our ability to draw conventions and events to our city is an issue for us. We want to be as hospitable a place as possible for all our visitors."

Do we really want to become Arizona? The state that refused to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday, and ended up losing its 1993 Super Bowl bid and the estimated $200 million that would have come with it? The same Arizona that has just dealt with this same religious freedom bill the past year and has cost itself concerts and conventions? Or how about 2010, when Arizona's immigration laws once again left Arizona in the dust regarding conventions and other events?

So to answer Jason Collins' question, the answer is, yes, businesses will have the right – the “religious freedom'' – to deny you service.

Just want to get this straight in my own head: Same-sex marriage is currently legal in the state of Indiana, but if a same-sex couple wants their wedding catered, the caterer has the right to deny them service. And so does the florist. And the band. Whoever.

Honestly, I love Indiana, have made it my home and plan to retire here if somebody will have me, but this just boggles my mind.

I'm not a religious person, but I've always thought religion was about love and tolerance and inclusion rather than exclusion. This bill leaves me cold. And it tells member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community that they are not necessarily welcome in our great city.

Next time Indiana tries to make its case for a Super Bowl, it wouldn't surprise me if the NFL – or the public at large – takes a long, hard look at this law and decides it's better off taking its business elsewhere.