Governor Mike Pence and the RFRA Debacle

Pence is a fitting running mate for Donald Trump. 

Pence is a fitting running mate for Donald Trump. 

Well, it’s finally, finally official.  Indiana Governor Mike Pence will be Donald Trump’s running mate. 

The first attack Hillary Clinton made against Pence –within 30 minutes of the official announcement—is that he signed into law Indiana’s controversial state RFRA bill, SB 101, in 2015. SB 101, of course, was controversial because it could have allowed people, non-profit organizations, and even businesses to use religion as an excuse to trump nondiscrimination statutes, deny access to health care, and create exceptions to nearly every state and local law. We thought it was worth a look back at what happened.

After Gov. Pence signed SB 101 into law, businesses and prominent Hoosiers took a stand against it: the NCAA, CEOs, NASCAR, law professors, healthcare providers, musicians, authors, performers, athletes, conventions, and entire states announced criticism and even boycotts of the state. Among others, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called the law “deeply” disappointing, Levi & Strauss said that it “fosters[s] a culture of intolerance,” and Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman stated that doing business in the state would be “unconscionable.”

Regular people and faith communities spoke out too. Within days of SB 101’s passage, #BoycottIndiana began trending on Twitter worldwide. Leaders from the Sikh Coalition, Reform Judaism, the Islamic Society of North America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Disciples of Christ all condemned the bill.

A week later, and confronting nationwide outrage, Governor Pence signed a bill to attempt to “fix” the RFRA. But the “fix” was insufficient. It still allows discrimination in healthcare and education, and could still allow religious organizations to use the bill to harm others.

Gov. Pence’s approval rating dropped almost 20 points after he signed the controversial legislation. And even with the “fix,” the Indiana RFRA has inflicted massive economic damages. Indianapolis alone lost $60 million from business and tourism, and twelve profitable conventions. Economic analysts concluded that Indiana could lose as much as $256.4 million over the next six years. Since SB 101 is still on the books, its long-term effects remain to be seen.

Read about other lessons learned from “religious liberty” legislation in the states.  The takeaway is that when legislation seeks to allow religious beliefs to justify discrimination, people don’t like it.  They want to protect their neighbors.