An editorial set to run on Tuesday by The Indianapolis Star leaves no question where Indiana's biggest newspaper stands on the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into state law last week. In a bold cover asking Gov. Mike Pence to "Fix This Now," The Indianapolis Star criticizes Indiana's "religious freedom" law and demands that state leaders establish laws that would protect individuals regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The three words, emblazoned in large white print against a black background, is a direct call for Indiana's government to reassess the law's vague language, which critics say could allow business owners to deny services to the LGBT community by citing a burden on their religious beliefs.
The front-page editorial says Indiana stands in a critical moment in history with much at stake, including its image, reputation, and efforts to "retool" its economy. The paper says that the "religious freedom" law has already hurt the state, despite whatever lawmakers originally intended for it to accomplish. Its damaging repercussions, the editorial staff writes, will only worsen if state leaders don't act fast.
Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage.
According to the newspaper, the solution is for Pence and the General Assembly to enact a state law that would prohibit discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations. Those protections won't counteract the "religious freedom" law. In fact, they would allow the controversial law to go on and exist without, well, controversy. There are already laws in Indiana that protect the LGBT community, but a clear statewide human rights law would help alleviate the intense criticism that has led some to call for a boycott of the state.
Importantly, passage of a state human rights law would send a clear message that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination. It's crucial for that message to be communicated widely.
What's interesting, however, is the newspaper does not call for a direct repeal of the "religious freedom" law. The Indianapolis Star acknowledges that a repeal would be "politically unacceptable" for Pence and Republican lawmakers, and after all, a number of state residents did support the law because of its promise to secure religious liberties. In the end, even if Indiana chooses to do away with the "religious freedom" law, that still means the state hasn't moved forward in advancing LGBT rights and protections.
That's why the newspaper, under the banner #WeAreIndiana, makes a direct plea to Pence to stop focusing on ideological arguments and instead bunker down on fixing what's at hand.
Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand. You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination. The laws can co-exist. And so can we.
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