Now we know.
Now we know just how hard it’s going to be for Indiana to claw its way into the 21st century.
It may take another hundred years.
That’s the message from Gov. Mike Pence’s State of the State speech.
Oh, and as far as the guv’nor is concerned, this appears to be just fine.
He’s hoping that the mess he made with his Republican pals last year, confusing religious freedom with the freedom to publicly discriminate, will just go away.
In the days prior to his annual speech, people wondered what Pence would say, how he was going to guide his party and, by extension Indiana, out of the red-faced thicket created by their Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In other words, they were looking for some leadership.
Here’s what they got: “I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the Constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.”
Pence basically told his notoriously dysfunctional Republican colleagues to figure something out because, well, because he doesn’t know what to do.
Reaction to the speech was swift and scathing. Michigan City Democrat Scott Pelath wondered why it was so hard for Republicans to, in his words, “add four words and a comma,” to the state’s civil rights law for the protection of LGBT Hoosiers.
Peter Hanscom, of Indiana Competes, said Gov. Pence, “had an opportunity to lead our state and call for decisive action to show that Indiana is a welcoming state, but his rhetoric indicates he is willing to let Indiana be a state that welcomes most, not all.”
And Jane Henegar, head of Indiana’s ACLU, provided a much needed civics lesson: “Our Constitution protects both the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom from discrimination. In the public square and marketplace, civil rights laws strike a wise and careful balance. This balance does not allow individuals to bring their beliefs about women or other protected groups into decisions about employment, housing, or public accommodations, no matter how deeply felt those religious beliefs may be.”
But then, as Gov. Pence never tires of pointing out, this is Indiana. What, exactly, he means by this is difficult to say. But one thing seems increasingly clear: Pence and his fellow Republicans are dead set on trying to steer Indiana as far as they can from what they see as America’s cultural drift.
In this they are striking chords echoing back at least as far as the 1920’s, when evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson preached that unless America found its way back to God, it was bound to fall to the triple threat of atheism, communism and evolution. Add LGBT civil rights to this mix and you’ve got our state legislature, circa 2016.
This, to put it mildly, is pathetic. It should, however, create a massive opening for John Gregg, the Democrat who will be running against Pence this November. Gregg called Pence’s lack of leadership on LGBT civil rights “unconscionable.”
Now, Mr. Gregg, for the hard part.