The Final Four and “Religious Freedom”: Why I’m Grateful to Indiana

If you’re a fan of neither basketball nor equality, you won’t be interested in this post. But if you’re a fan of either, or like me, both, read on.

Dear Hoosier Legislature,

Thank you for passing your state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would, in its current form, allow Indiana businesses to refuse to serve LGBT citizens.

Thank you for doing so exactly when the nation’s sports mega-spotlight is trained on Indianapolis for the Final Four.

Thank you for bringing to the fore the moral fibre of folks known usually only for their defense patterns. Folks like the coach of defending national men’s basketball champion Connecticut, Kevin Ollie, who is boycotting the Final Four. Granted, Ollie was following the directive of Connecticut’s Governor Dan Malloy’s executive order banning state employees from traveling to Indiana on state money. But Ollie made it clear he was doing more than “caving” to his governor’s demand (as the Connecticut Post put it).

UConn’s University Herald states,

“In support of Governor Malloy’s travel ban to the state of Indiana, Kevin Ollie and other members of the UConn men’s basketball staff will not travel to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four and events surrounding it,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement. “UConn is a community that values all of our members and treats each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of their background and beliefs and we will not tolerate any other behavior.”

Given the expected attention to himself and his program at this year’s Final Four, Ollie’s boycott carries great weight.

Another unlikely hero: University of Southern California’s Athletic Director Pat Haden, who announced he will boycott a national football meeting in Indiana in honor of his son.
To quote the Washington Post,

Pat Haden, the athletic director at the University of Southern California, will skip a meeting of the College Football Playoff committee this week in Indiana because of the state’s recent passage of a controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“I am the proud father of a gay son,” Haden announced on Twitter. “In his honor, I will not be attending the CFP committee meeting in Indy this week. #EmbraceDiversity”

All this attention is now turning to pressure on Indiana to do the right thing. In fact, Governor Pence, who signed the law while insisting it was never intended to discriminate, is right now working with the Legislature to rewrite Indiana’s RFRA and–one can only hope–rein it in.

(Orig. photo courtesy Mike Mozart, Flikr Creative Commons)

(Orig. photo courtesy Mike Mozart, Flikr Creative Commons)

When my Mate used to teach Constitutional Law, he helped his students remember the acronym RFRA by referring to it as “the noise made by a small, angry dog.” There are a lot of small, angry dogs in our country, apparently: people who feel themselves persecuted because they don’t happen to be taking part in the great national shift toward tolerance of LGBT rights.

I, personally, am grateful to the Indiana Legislature for highlighting that small-mindedness on a national scale, and forcing even those who would prefer not to have to take a stand to do just that.



8 thoughts on “The Final Four and “Religious Freedom”: Why I’m Grateful to Indiana

  1. So, in essence, you’re saying it’s okay for someone who believes the gay lifestyle is unsafe and morally wrong to be forced to condone the practice, and if they do not, that they should be fined, jailed, court-martialed, driven out of business, driven from their jobs, and even risk the loss of their homes? This is equality? I’d say they’re quite justified in “feeling themselves persecuted.”

    What about schools being threatened with the loss of accreditation? Adoption agencies being shut down? Groups being denied equal access to public facilities? There’s a whole “gay Gestapo” out there attempting to force anyone who does not agree with them into submission. Why not just go elsewhere? There are many gay-friendly choices.

    I applaud Indiana for holding the first amendment dear.

    • I work as a medical assistant and imaging tech. I’ve performed exams on wounded gang members. I KNOW they lead a lifestyle that’s “unsafe and morally wrong”. I don’t get the option to withhold treatment, or behave with less respect than I must show all patients. After helping dig bullets out of sinners, I’m not exactly impressed by people whinging over baked goods, flowers and photography. Serving the public means every member of it.

  2. When I taught public school, I taught hundreds of kids whose lifestyles I did not condone. But I did it because it was my job. If you’re a florist or a baker, providing services to someone whose marriage you don’t approve of does not mean condoning it; it means you’re doing your job, even if you have to hold your nose while doing it. One’s personal preferences do not trump someone else’s right to love and happiness. I do agree that performing the actual wedding as a minister is different; ministers are literally putting their faith into action when doing their job. But that is not true of any other wedding or housing-related job I can think of. The people who wrote this legislation did it for the express purpose of allowing discrimination, their language notwithstanding.

  3. I’ve happily served gays at my restaurant job, and I’ve happily taught gay kids. Not the same issue. Even the florist currently being sued by the gay couple served them in her shop. They took her to court for declining to participate in their wedding. Participation is the issue, and it’s the same quandry for the florist as the minister. She shouldn’t be forced to participate. Neither should faith-based adoption agencies be forced to adopt to gay couples. Neither should faith-based schools be forced to hire gays who don’t conform to their faith. Neither should I be forced to rent my duplex to a gay couple. I’ll happily sell them my books. I’ll happily serve them a meal. I don’t want to participate in their lifestyle by letting them live it in my house. There’s a big difference. It’s not discrimination. It’s not participating in something I view as wrong.

  4. And yet that exact same argument, with those exact same words, was used by those who once refused to rent to couples of mixed race. At some point one’s rights to only deal with what one believes in run smack into someone else’ sir ghts to be treated with equality. I still have a hard time believing anyone making your argument could look deeply into the eyes of someone you loved who was gay and continue to make that argument to them without feeling small-hearted.

    Another attitude that continues to astound me, in the Bible-based resistance to gay equality, is the assumption of victim status–to the point of using words like “gay Gestapo” to describe people trying to ensure equal treatment by a society that used to harrass them, jail them, excommunicate them, and use phrases like “that’s so gay” when they meant “stupid.” Calling pro-gay equality activists “Gestapo” is right up there with calling anti-Jewish activists “Gestapo:” more than a little ironic.

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