It’s another step in the right direction.
One of the many excuses Indiana Republicans have used when asked if the state legislature would consider putting equal rights protections for LGBTQ Hoosiers into the state’s civil rights laws is that there was no national precedent. (I remind you that this is the same group that counts 20 states as a “mere few” when it comes to the number of other states in the U.S. with these kinds of protections on their books.)
Rep. Andre Carson (IN-7) plans to poke the first hole in that argument.
Carson is expected to present a resolution later this week expressing a “Sense of Congress” that the LGBT community should be protected from discrimination under the law.
While “Sense of” resolutions are statements of majority opinion, they can be added as amendments to regular bills moving through Congress. Still, a “Sense of” amendment is not force law even if the regular bill is passed and signed.
What a “Sense of” resolution does do, however, is creates a public record of the legislators who vote for or against the resolution, letting voters know exactly where their Congressional representative and/or Senator stands on the issue.
Carson made the following remarks after the announcement.
“As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the most free and open society the world has ever known. Yet, for far too long, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have been forced to live in the shadows because of who they are. Year after year, we see attacks on the LGBT community as governments at all levels look to institutionalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Recently, we witnessed my home state of Indiana enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, giving businesses the right to refuse service based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“In the wake of the backlash of Indiana’s misguided law, it is clear that the vast majority of Americans oppose this type of discrimination. It is long past time for Congress to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, know that they are valued members of our society. From housing to employment to education, they deserve to live their lives like any other American, free from intolerance because of who they are.
“I am proud to join with my House colleagues to introduce this resolution, which makes clear that the discrimination faced by the LGBT community is unacceptable. America is defined by the rich culture that results from our differences, not by intolerance towards a selected few. With this resolution, we are reaffirming our commitment to overcome this civil rights issue and ensure true equality for all Americans.”
As the statewide and national conversation regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act grew into a EF-5 tornado in Indiana, the voices of several interests were heard including government, business and advocacy groups both local and from around the country.
One voice that hadn't been heard too often, if at all, was the religious community.
The "fix" to RFRA was proposed, debated, passed and signed all in the matter of a day. Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, Senior Pastor at North United Methodist Church, penned the following open letter just before the changes to Senate Bill 50 were announced. However, given the nature of the discussion and the fact that this week is the most important week in the Christian faith, the letter's message remains relevant.
An Open Letter on RFRA
As the senior minister of North United Methodist Church and through prayerful reflection with our Ministries Council, I stand in opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This law is contrary to the example of hospitality and humility we see in Jesus and to the core values of our church.
Regardless of its original intention, RFRA will likely foster discrimination against LGBTQ persons because it will be misunderstood and misapplied. The LGBTQ community has good reason to fear how this law will hurt them because they do not have a protected status in Indiana. It creates the potential for or appearance of state-sanctioned discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. In short, RFRA is the latest incarnation of intolerance, cloaked in the language of ‘freedom,’ that has marked the history of our state.
Legally, it accomplishes nothing in terms of protecting religious freedom which is protected by the Constitution and best adjudicated through the courts. Socially, it has already created unnecessary divisions and economic distress. It brings out the worst in us as Hoosiers.
The media and supporters of RFRA have wrongly portrayed this issue as a conflict between Christian identity and gay rights. Yet, the real identity of a Christian is found in the example of Christ. This week, Christians celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. In the Last Supper we see Jesus extending hospitality to everyone at the table, including those with whom he disagreed, and he modeled humility in washing their feet. When he was arrested and persecuted he did not demand his legal rights. Therefore, to be a Christian means to practice the hospitality and humility of Jesus. This way of life needs no legal defense.
Indeed, I share this way of life with many in the LGBTQ community who are faithful followers of Jesus and members of our congregation. At North Church, our diversity is a part of our unity in Christ.
RFRA seeks to limit who will be served, but Jesus served everyone. It is contrary to the values of North United Methodist Church that seeks to be an open, inclusive, and welcoming church. We affirm that through God's redeeming love, all are one in Christ.Grace and Peace,
Rev. Darren Cushman Wood
Indianapolis government, business and community leaders are watching the city bleed over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law last week by Governor Mike Pence.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard gave a solo statement Monday afternoon asking the General Assembly to fix the law. The City-County Council back him up with a resolution stating the law was not a true representation of the capital city and was bas for business. Ballard immediately signed it and shipped it off to Pence’s desk.
Then, Tuesday night, Ballard issued yet another letter to Pence by way of the Indianapolis Star, this time with the support of his four living predecessors.
The letter essentially states that the RFRA law and its taint on Indianapolis and Indiana is rapidly dismantling the legacy former mayors Dick Lugar, Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Bart Peterson and Ballard spent nearly 50 years creating.
Way to go, Pence. WAY. TO. GO.
(Editor’s note – the letter was provided to NUVO by the former press secretary for Mayor Bill Hudnut.)
In a press conference designed to announce potential clarifications to the state's RFRA law, Governor Mike Pence announced to reporters, "I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else."
Pride organizers are now asking Pence to put that in writing by welcoming visitors to the annual Circle City IN Pride Festival scheduled for June 6 - 13, 2015.
The letter, posted on Indy Pride's website, reads as follows:
Dear Governor Pence:
The annual Circle City IN Pride Festival is coming up on June 6-13th, and with more than 100,000 people participating throughout the week of events, it is by far the largest gathering of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community in the State. The Festival attracts visitors from all over the region, the country, and the world, and while we understand your position that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a way for businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, we want to offer you the opportunity to reassure our visitors in writing that when they come to Circle City IN Pride, the vaunted notion of “Hoosier Hospitality” is in full effect. We, the Indy Pride Board of Directors, are requesting a “Welcome to Indiana” letter from you to include on our website, publications and social media.
Annually, we receive such welcome letters from Senator Donnelly, Congressman Carson, Mayor Ballard, and City County Councilmen Adamson, but we have never had the opportunity to add a sitting governor to the list. What better way to show that Indiana is open for business and not targeting certain groups than for the Governor of Indiana to put out the welcome mat to these visitors. We think it would go a long way to allay the fears the nation and the world have been expressing against RFRA.
Ultimately, we are all citizens of the great state of Indiana, and we hope that you accept this offer to welcome people to Circle City IN Pride, Indianapolis, and Indiana as a whole. We believe you when you say you “abhor discrimination,” and we believe this is a great opportunity for you to show that Hoosier Hospitality has not been replaced by Hoosier Hostility.Sincerely,
The Indy Pride Board of Directors
Chris Morehead, President
The CEO of GenCon, Adrian Swartout, asked Gov. Pence not to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Pence ignored her (and several other CEOs, small business owners, clergy, citizens, etc.) and signed it anyway.
Now, there’s a new letter from GenCon. This one is addressed to the fans and vendors of the gaming convention that pumps $50 million dollars into the Central Indiana economy.GenCon Letter to Attendees
Swartout concedes that GenCon does have a binding contract through 2020 and that city tourism officials have promised RFRA and its discriminatory implications will not touch the convention.
(She only gives a hint of the amount of groveling and pleading that might have gone on, but I still would have liked to have been a bug in THAT phone!)
Swartout’s message to ers fans and vendors is still boldy clear: she wants to hear about any problems or incidents because GenCon’s future in Indiana in 2021 and beyond is hardly guaranteed.
Sandy Sasso, Senior Rabbi Emerita at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, made a compelling case in the March 22 edition of the Indianapolis Star against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Indiana Governor Mike Pence is set to sign into law today. She writes about the act in the context of the Exodus narrative, stating that RFRA defines “freedom in ways that counter that ancient story rather than advance it.”
Sasso’s opinion piece got me thinking about more recent Jewish history relevant to this noxious bill that is likely to become law.
It got me thinking about laws passed in Germany 80 years ago at the annual Nuremberg Rally for the Nazi Party in 1935.
The Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship, made it illegal for German Jews to marry Germans, made them outcasts in their own country, and paved the way for the Holocaust which had consumed much of European Jewry by the time the Second World War ended in 1945.
Bigotry has morphed and shifted over the decades since WWII ended. No conservative stalwart such as senator-turned-presidential-candidate Ted Cruz would be caught dead making derogatory comments about Jews for reasons too complicated to get into here.
These days, republicans are so fanatically in love with Israel that their leadership arranged for Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak in front of a joint session of congress on March 3 as if he were president of the United States. (They’re not as enraptured with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen, and Larry David as they are with the likes of Netanyahu but you won’t hear them saying that.)
But you almost expect someone like Cruz to engage in some Muslim-bashing as a side dish to his rabid pro-Israel war-mongering and de rigueur gay-bashing.
You see, being a follower of Jesus, for Cruz, means you have a license to be a bigot and a homophobe. I suspect that it means the same for Governor Pence as well, as he seems to have every intention of signing this bill into law. (That is said to be happening today on Thursday, March 26, in a private ceremony.)
But the Jesus of proponents of this legislation have their own personal Jesus in mind, to borrow a phrase from the new wave band Depeche Mode, that doesn’t have much to do with the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. You know, the one who implored his listeners: “He who is without sin, cast the first stone!”
Apparently our governor believes that he is without sin; he's casting stones on the LGBT community while at the same time denying that this legislation has anything to do with gay marriage.
And I have yet to hear in discussion of this bill the possibility that certain Hoosiers will take RFRA as an excuse to discriminate against Muslims. Considering the antipathy in evangelical circles towards those of the Muslim faith, such discrimination is pretty much a sure thing if this law passes.
The Jesus many pastors in Pence’s crowd evoke in their sermons these days resembles American Sniper, drawing his bead on Mohammed such-and-such, rather than any characterization in scripture. If you don’t believe me, just listen to a sermon by televangelist John Hagee. Pick any of them.
No doubt, there are those on the far right (what other kind of right is there these days?) would strenuously object to my comparison of this law to the Nuremberg Laws and offer forth their very matter of fact apologetics for their legislation.
Yesterday the Indy star quoted Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Inglefield saying the following: "It's important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those.”
The Nuremberg Laws had their apologists as well. In 1934, a pamphlet appeared in Germany under the title “Why the Ayran Law?” written by E.H. Schulz and R. Frercks. The pamphlet presented all sorts of statistics showing that Jews didn’t wish to work in fields such as agriculture, were a stateless people, were genetically different than Germans, that the Jewish race is arrogant, etc…. Basically this pamphlet was encouraging Germans to “express” (to use Washburne’s phrase) the anti-Semitic bigotry that was soon to be codified into law.
Republicans such as Washburne want to give business owners and other service providers the right to deny service to same sex couples—or to anyone else who they think their servicing would impinge on their religious freedom. But, of course, they don't want to be called out for their bigotry.
Let’s back up a bit and look at the text of the Indiana Senate bill for a moment. The act, if passed, would provide “that a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person's exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.”
So essentially, any bar owner or paramedic or doctor or pizza maker or cake baker can invoke this soon-to-be law as an excuse not to provide service. Aside from the Establishment Clause concerns that this invocation evokes, the health and safety of you and your fellow citizens are also at issue here.
Of course, you will have every right to sue the paramedic in court for damages seeing that he refused to treat you because of the pro-gay marriage logo on your tee-shirt. Or the Muslim headscarf on your head.
In court, however, said paramedic will be able now to invoke RFRA in his defense. And the burden of proving in a court of law a “compelling governmental interest” of the paramedic providing treatment will be on you, a burden likely to be substantial both in monetary and opportunity cost. You might have some luck crossing the Red Sea, as it were, in front of a sympathetic, rational-minded judge. Just don’t wind up dead first.
I was 16 years old in March 1990 when NUVO published its first issue. That's the same age my oldest son is now. As an African-American woman who grew up in Indianapolis I've been thinking about the city my son lives in compared to the city my teenage self experienced 25 years ago. One cliché keeps popping into my head: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
I was raised on the north side of Indianapolis, a proud graduate of the MSD of Washington Township (GO Panthers!). North Central High School, in my mind, was a microcosm of the city as a whole. There were students of varying races, ethnicities and nationalities. Socio-economic backgrounds were just as diverse. The student parking lot ranged from BMWs to the students who took the bus everyday and could only dream of their own engines. Spiritual backgrounds were represented by everything from Christianity to Judaism to Islam to Wiccan to the faithless. We were all there under one roof, co-existing in the name of education. Some of us were more than willing to embrace that education of academia and life while others ... not so much.
What I didn't realize until well into my adult years, was how sheltered I was even in such a diverse environment. My circle of friends was tight, based on my interests and academic pursuits. I had heard the rumors of Black vs. white confrontations; student-to-student tensions as well as student-to-teacher battles. I remember when a large Black male student was suspended and arrested for pushing a white teacher through a plate glass floor-to-ceiling window in the computer room for calling him a racial slur. And I remember when Dr. Eugene White was brought to North Central from the Fort Wayne Community School District to become principal of our school. His mission was to bring an end to the racial tensions within the school, police the halls and to be a role model to the young Black males who were getting lost in the cracks.
I also remember the stories and lessons from my parents and grandparents. There were places around the city and state I was told I shouldn't go as a Black girl. South of downtown was off limits and trips downtown were limited to special occasions in large groups. Manners and best behavior were considered a survival skill. All of my Black friends were told the same thing by their parents. And if an African-American family moved into the neighborhood or school district, they were told the same things.
That's how Indiana's dark history lives on, traveling by word-of-mouth like all of the great stories in history. If you know anything about Indiana's history, then you can probably imagine my family's shock and concern when my first job out of college was in Marion, Indiana. Despite the 65-year time span between the lynchings of Thomas Ship and Abram Smith and my employment at a local radio station, my grandmother called me every day after work for a month to make sure I was OK. It didn't get any better when I went from Marion to Kokomo in March 1996. My family was relatively quiet until July 1996 when the Ku Klux Klan decided they would rally on the courthouse square. From what I understand, it wasn't near the size of the gathering 73 years prior — one of the largest Klan gatherings in history. I did not witness the event personally because the Kokomo police chief at that time made it clear he would not let me cover the event for the newsroom. It makes me smile to this day to remember the extreme look of concern on his face when I realized he earnestly had my safety at heart.
I should probably mention that a company headquartered in Martinsville owned both the Kokomo and Marion radio stations I had worked for. I will admit that as a young woman I always held my breath, watched my speed, and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible whenever I drove through Martinsville on my way to Bloomington. It was made clear at an early age that the ghost of Carol Jenkins still lingered and I had no desire to meet her fate.
The ghosts of the past march to the beat of the storytellers that pass those tales on to generation after generation. They are told in the stories of police brutality and racial profiling that pop up in cases like Danny Sales in 1995 and Brandon Johnson in 2010. When the Lawrence North Lady Wildcats were met with racial taunting and gorilla suits when facing the Bedford North Lawrence Lady Stars during last year's semistate game, the collective memory took everyone back to 1998 when the Martinsville home team greeted the Bloomington North visiting team with racial slurs and dirty play on the court (that included biting). Community elders recited the story of how the 1955 state championship team from Crispus Attucks High School received those same taunts in the face of their victory from a state in the hands of a racially-biased government.
The life of my 16-year-old self is much different than that of my 16-year-old son. Texting and Twitter weren't my primary forms of communication. It took forever to write a perfect paper on a word processing typewriter (the ones where you could only view one line at a time) compared to emailing the paper to a teacher's dropbox from your school-issued Chromebook. But I still share the stories passed on to me. I find myself having the conversations about manners and good behavior if I'm ever approached by law enforcement. As my son acquires the driving hours needed to get his license this spring, the list of where to go and not to go is still included in my lesson as if they were a part of basic map navigation.
Because the concerns of my parents are now my concerns.
Despite the success of African-Americans in this city in business, government, entertainment and sports, there remains a level of systemic racism that lies just below the surface.
And so the ghosts march out of the past and continue on, chanting the mantra, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Senate Bill 101 - known as the "Religious Freedon Restoration Act - is scheduled to come before the full Indiana House of Representatives for a final vote Monday afternoon.
Supporters of the bill say it will strengthen the language in the state constitution for Hoosiers to exercise their religious faith without interference from the government, especially in the workplace. Opponents of the bill say it is a license to discriminate allowing business owners and employees to deny service to someone they don't like or disagree with, specifically in the LGBTQ community.
Hoosiers are voicing their concerns and hoping, as constituents, they voices are heard. And the concerns are vast and valid, as pointed out in James S. Ferguson's letter posted here. Ferguson says he has forwarded this letter to ever member of the Indiana House (all 100 of them) via email.
We can only hope they all read it and think about what it says before Monday's session.
An Open Letter to the Indiana House of Representatives:
In this coming week, you will likely be called upon to vote on SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. A great many people have voiced a great many differing opinions about this proposed legislation, and I know that each of you has your own feelings about it.
Regardless of your personal convictions regarding the right of—for example—a small business owner to deny service to someone because of their religious conviction, I would ask you to consider this example.
There's an organization that calls itself a church. Today they're known as the “Creativity Movement”, but they once styled themselves as the “World Church of the Creator”. This is a group of people whose religious beliefs encompass a vision of the world in which caucasians are the sole protectors of civilization, and must be permitted to be dominant over (and in some cases, allowed to completely conquer and destroy) other ethnicities.
Their doctrine expressly prohibits “fraternization” with African-Americans, Hispanics, persons of either Jewish descent or Jewish faith, Muslims, Catholics and a whole host of other minority groups.
I have read SB 101 in its entirety. I have applied my best faculties to understanding its practical applications, and have exhaustively read the opinions—both pro and con—of legal minds. It is my firm belief that, were the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to become law in the State of Indiana, it would permit a group like the Creativity Movement to exploit its vague language. Businesses run by members of this “church” could deny service to any of the previously-mentioned groups, and rightfully defend that denial of service because being forced to serve a customer belonging to one of those groups would constitute a violation of their religious freedom.
I bring this example to your attention, because I fear that in your haste to protect members of the majority religion of our state—namely Protestant Christianity—you may have failed to consider that this law will give cover to all manner of abhorrent religious practices which would not otherwise be permitted to be exercised in a public context (e.g. the operation of a public commercial enterprise).
So before you vote on this bill, you have to ask yourself the following question: Do you grant the assertion that the proprietor of a business should be permitted to deny service to any individual for any reason they deem to be consistent with their religious beliefs—even if that reason is the person has the wrong skin color, or worships in the wrong faith?
Admittedly, there are some more libertarian schools of thought that think that this is completely permissible. And if you belong to such a school, I may disagree with you but I can at least respect your vote as being ideologically consistent.
But if you don't think that a member of the Creativity Movement should be permitted to deny service to an African-American customer on the basis of their religious belief, it is logically inconsistent and rhetorically disingenuous of you to vote in favor of a bill that would allow a member of a more mainstream church to deny service to a homosexual customer on the basis of their religious belief.
You must concede this point, and vote accordingly. If you do not concede this point, I would very much appreciate a response from your office explaining why you do not concede this point. Any such lack of a response, followed by a “yes” vote on SB 101, will be taken as evidence of intellectual dishonesty and favoritism toward one particular religion over another—a practice explicitly forbidden in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Thank you very much for (I hope) taking the time to read this letter. I implore you to be wise and to carefully consider the possible repercussions of a bill like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act before you cast your vote on it.
James S. Ferguson
Indiana's Nature Conservancy and Honda have teamed up to encourage Hoosiers to get out and explore the state's natural beauty.
Their Natural Treasures challenge officially runs August 1 through September 30.
The Nature Conservancy hopes this challenge will encourage Hoosiers to appreciate the natural beauty around them, and subsequently help to protect it.
State representatives, City-County Councilors and other elected representatives will join minimum wage workers, community advocates and others at a town hall meeting tonight 6-7:30 p.m. to discuss the implications of raising the minimum wage. The town hall will take place at the Worker's Justice Center downtown.
This town hall builds on momentum building in Indiana and around the country to raise the minimum wage. According to an SEIU press release, raise hike advocates will use the town hall as "an opportunity to speak out about the harsh reality of living on just $7.25 an hour—and hold their representatives accountable for raising the wage." During the town hall, elected officials will be challenged to be a part of a Walk-a-Day, which would involve spending a day in the shoes of a minimum wage worker to experience what it’s like to live on a $7.25 an hour paycheck.
City-County Council members Frank Mascari and Duke Oliver, State Reps. Justin Moed and Karlee Macer, State Sen. Brent Waltz and representatives of Congressman André Carson and Sen. Joe Donnelly are expected to attend.
“The truth is that families can’t survive on $7.25,” said Carolyn Lazzell, a Brownstown homecare worker and SEIU Healthcare Indiana member who will serve as the facilitator for the town hall. “If you make minimum wage, you have to depend on public assistance or go without food, shelter or some other basic necessity. You can’t meet your needs at $7.25. It just doesn’t add up.”
Editor's note: The Alley Cat Allies are offering a reward for information on the recent deaths and disappearances of scores of cats in Martinsville, Indiana. The following press release provides more detail:
BETHESDA, MD—Today, Alley Cat Allies offers a cash reward of $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent deaths and disappearances of up to 30 cats in Martinsville, Indiana. Cats have been found dead in the neighborhood near Home Avenue and South Street. Anyone with any information is asked to contact crime stoppers at (317) 262–TIPS (8477).
"This is a disturbing and horrific case of animal cruelty, and we need to find whomever is responsible," says Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.
"Intentionally killing a cat—pet, stray or feral—is against the law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We are hopeful that authorities will take this seriously, and we offer our full support throughout the investigation."
Cats are now the number one pet in America, with over 82 million cats in homes, but caring for cats extends beyond pets. According to Alley Cat Allies' research, 25 percent of Americans have fed an outdoor cat.
"No matter where a cat lives—indoors or outdoors—they are cared about and valued," says Robinson. "There is something inherently American about loving cats and wanting to protect them. The fact that people are actively spaying or neutering and vaccinating their cats is evidence that we are an animal-loving society."
The Morgan County Humane Society has an active Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program and authorities say the majority of the cats that have been killed or disappeared were stray or outdoor cats.
"A lot of residents feed and care for the cats—we help by getting the cats spayed or neutered and vaccinated—then the cats are returned to the location where they were trapped," says Alicia Fouty, TNR coordinator at Morgan County Humane Society. "Over 500 cats have gone through our TNR program so far."
TNR is an established, mainstream program designed to care for community cats and to keep them out of shelters. Over 430 cities and counties endorse TNR as policy for community cats, and nationally, there are over 600 nonprofits with TNR programs for the care of stray and feral cats. Millions of people care for outdoor cats daily.
Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact crime stoppers at (317) 262–TIPS (8477).
About Alley Cat Allies
Alley Cat Allies is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. Founded in 1990, today Alley Cat Allies has over half a million supporters and helps tens of thousands of individuals, communities, and organizations save and improve the lives of millions of cats and kittens nationwide. Its website is www.alleycat.org.
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