Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Public-Relations Disaster

     See that sign?  RFRA with a red oh-hells-no symbol across it. They're popping up on the doors of businesses all around Broad Ripple and elsewhere in Indianapolis.
     Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  It must have sounded like a great idea when they were kicking it around the Statehouse.  It must have looked good to 'em on paper: a bill that held out a hand to Indiana's large number of religious conservatives while giving notice to the gay-marriage people that while they might've got themselves the right to get married, the Hoosier government wasn't going to let 'em push around any bakers or caterers (etc.) as had happened in other states -- and best of all, the language of the bill followed closely on a relatively uncontroversial Federal law from 21 years ago.*  They must have figured they couldn't lose!

     They figured wrong.  They lost, big, and they're dragging the rest of us along.  They didn't even understand where the real battlefield was located.  Neither do most of the people protesting and holding rallies, pro and con.

      Legislators, welcome to 2015, where states are jostling for business in a down economy and where perception is all it takes to alter a state's standing in the competition. Indiana is now seen as backward-looking -- which is always an easy sell to non-Hoosiers anyway.

     Forget about your and everyone else's sex life, or religion, or wedlockery or the extent to which they're willing to infuse a business transaction with religion and/or politics.  This state needs jobs.  J-O-B-S.  And what was conceived as, face it, a shout-out to the Republican base is backfiring on that whole "attract new and expanding employers to Indiana" front.  The massive Angie's List headquarters expansion project is on hold; they moved here from Ohio, in search of a better business climate, and they can move elsewhere; their business is mostly a massive database and communications support, just as easily run from Missouri or Inner Mongolia as Indianapolis.  The NCAA -- headquartered downtown along the Monon Canal -- is making noises about taking their Final Four business elsewhere.  And we're only a few days downwind of Indiana's RFRA.

     I keep hearing de jure readings from the Right pointing to the "strict scruntiny" requirements and how limited that makes this law; I'm getting plenty of de facto interpretations from the Left about how it's really a wink and a nod to kick LGBT folks outta the pool.  Both sides are invested in the issue. Lovely, really, but it doesn't matter.  That isn't what's at stake here. You can't put much in the collection plate if you don't have a job -- and you're darned unlikely to put together a big fancy wedding from the unemployment line.

     RFRA is a public-relations disaster.  In a Rust Belt state short on corporate HQs, competing with the other 49 states and the rest of the world for a shrinking pool of jobs, any edge you have matters -- and so does any edge you lose.  All the Legislature had to do was stay shut up and let Hoosiers work things out among themselves, while the state's generally pro-business laws and taxes did the heavy lifting.  They couldn't restrain themselves.

     Any time one party gets a firm hold on the Executive and Legislative wings of our triple-lobed gummints, foolhardy base-pandering is soon to follow.  In Indiana, it was GOP's turn and sure enough, nobody among them looked at the wider issues.

     The older I get, the more the phrase "legislative gridlock" appeals to me.  It's probably the best we can hope for.  We didn't get it this time 'round and look what happened.

     Indiana's RFRA is headed for the courts as soon as someone manages to establish standing.  The damage has already been done -- done to all Hoosiers, straight, gay, religious, secular, conservative and liberal alike. 

     ETA: Legal analysis here.
* Relatively uncontroversial: in 1997, application of the Federal RFRA to the state and local governments was challenged and fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that this Federal law applied only to the Federales.  It's an interesting case.


rickn8or said...

I intend to point and laugh when the first "No Jews, No Christians" sign goes up on a Muslim's store.

Old NFO said...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. And you're right it is a FEDERAL law, passed by Schumer et al and signed by Clinton.

Karl said...

Thanks. I've been looking for an explanation from within Indiana.

I agree with you, on both sides.

From an OH perspective I wonder if the damage will be severe. IN is (or was) ranked 11th in business friendliness and is surrounded by last place contestants. OH is/was #45, IL worse.

R said...

The mayor of my home town has just banned city funded official travel to Indiana.

Rob K said...

Some things are worth more than money. And the Angie's List deal falling through is a blessing-- the city was going give them millions for nothing and they've never once turned a profit.

Rob K said...

Some things are worth more than money. And the Angie's List deal falling through is a blessing-- the city was going give them millions for nothing and they've never once turned a profit.

Tam said...

Rob K,

"Some things are worth more than money."

I guess the feeling you get from telling homos "No Cake For You!" is just priceless, huh?

You know what's double funny? It's still illegal for a gay cake shop owner to deny someone service for being a Christian. You can look it up.

Tam said...

" It's still illegal for a gay cake shop owner to deny someone service for being a Christian."

To be perfectly clear, that's the part that chafes me, right there. See, the RFRA doesn't protect one from lawsuits if one goes after protected classes that are named in the Public Accommodations Act. Discriminating on the basis of sex, race, or religion is still a big No-No and will get you in trouble, even if you called God in to testify on your behalf.

The RFRA only covers you if you exercise your religious beliefs to be a dick to people who aren't covered by that federal law, and we all know who that means, right? *wink, nudge* The omo-hay exuals-say, right friend?

You've really got to be a tiny-souled self-absorbed douchebag to see why people might find that a little mean-spirited and backwards.

You wanna take the gloves off and let the free market breathe? Fine; repeal the Public Accommodations Act. This is the opposite of that; this de facto carves out an un-protected class.

Roberta X said...

"Some things are worth more than money." And you -- or the state government -- has the right to decide that for me? Since when?

These idiots pissed away who knows how much business over an infrequent (though admittedly lurid) conflict that is known to have happened two or three times, none of them in Indiana. Worse, they did it in what appears to have been blissful ignorance or blithe unconcern.

Anonymous said...

"Blissful ignorance" pretty much describes the average politico - on both or all sides of the spectrum.

Anonymous said...

It's time to be done with protected classes.

It's everyone's right to be an asshole and refuse engaging in commerce with any other individual for any reason. It's also time for everyone to understand that their decisions have consequences. Go bankrupt because no one wants to business with a bigot asshole, sorry, shouldn't have been a douche. No protections for anyone except for human rights and property rights.

Tam, you're right. Repeal everything and let the chips fall where they may.

Joseph said...

The people trying to boycott Indiana tried to get Phil Robertson fired. They failed. They tried to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. They failed. They tried to drive Hobby Lobby out of business. They failed. They threatened to make the country ungovernable if Bush were re-elected. They failed.

Joseph said...

"I intend to point and laugh when the first 'No Jews, No Christians' sign goes up on a Muslim's store."

They should have the legal right to do so. FIW!

Dr.D said...

The First Amendment to the Constitution gives us freedom of association. That includes freedom to choose who we will, or will not, do business with. Each of us should have the right to refuse to do business, in any form, with anyone else for any reason or no reason. A hotel keep should be able to look the next would-be guest in the eye and say, "no, I don't like your looks, and you will not be staying in my hotel tonight." A baker, photographer, or anyone else should have the right to say, "NO" without any penalty whatsoever. Private businesses should be able to serve or exclude anyone for any reason at all, or no reason. We are (supposed to be) free people. Let us be free to act as we choose. Anything else is compulsion!

Dr.D said...

Oh, and Joe, don't worry about the signs in Muzzie stores excluding Christians and Jews. They would not knowingly be caught dead in such a dive.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Dr. D.
I just hit 50, but that's hardly fossilized. I remember establishments with signs reading, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
Any law that negates that is just wrong. It's the owner's establishment, built through his or her hard work & long hours. He doesn't like blacks, Jews, homosexuals, hillbillies, Trekkies? His business--and he'll gain a very few customers for that stance, and lose a lot. That is how the market should work.
--Tennessee Budd

Kristophr said...

Tennessee Budd:

Unintended consequence here. It is still against the law for an atheist baker to refuse to bake a cake for a Christian ceremony. I m also wondering how long it will take someone to order a "Praise Satan" cake from a baker.

I'm with Tam. Repeal the lot of it. Let the free market deal with ALL bigotry.

rickn8or said...

""I intend to point and laugh when the first 'No Jews, No Christians' sign goes up on a Muslim's store."

They should have the legal right to do so. FIW!"

That was my point; this law enables them to do just that. So when a muzzie cabdriver won't pick you up because you've got your dog or a sack of liquor with you, be sure and thank that baker.

I wonder if he thought his customer was going to say, "Well, since we can't get the cake, we can't get married; I guess we'll just have to go home and give up the ghey."

Rob K said...

No Tam, I feel that liberty is priceless.

I absolutely support repealing the public accommodations act. I say that as someone in a religious minority who has been denied a job at least once because I won't work on Saturdays.

It doesn't carve out an unprotected class. It removes from the government the power to force someone to do something which is against their religion.

No one has a right to another's labor.

Roberta X said...

There's a whole lot of "should." Should is nice and all, but we live in a world of "is."

Stuart the Viking said...

"IS" sucks, I wanna live in happy happy should-be land!


rickn8or said...

There's a whole lot of "should." Should is nice and all, but we live in a world of "is."

That needs to be carved in stone somewhere.

Tam said...


"That was my point; this law enables them to do just that."

No, it does not. The Muslim cabbie cannot refuse Jewish or Christian passengers because discriminating against customers on the grounds of religion is still illegal under the Public Accommodations Act, RFRA or no RFRA.

This is exactly my point: Whatever the RFRA's stated de jure in tent, it de facto carves out an unprotected class. Which is what it was intended to do in the first place. (Which is why it's amusing to see the non-SoCon small-"l" libertarians waving flags for it. Then again, my fellow wookie-suiters often demonstrate that they don't really grok how laws work ;) )

rickn8or said...

And don't think I didn't give a lot of thought to saying "This should be carved in stone somewhere."

rickn8or said...

Tam, the fun part is going to be watching the mental gymnastics employed by all sides as the Laws of Unintended Consequences take hold.

LCB said...

Lot of good thoughts in this list. I believe a business should be able to do business with whomever they wish, just as I'm able to say "Wait, you don't serve everyone here? Then you're not getting my money!"

But as Roberta said: There's a whole lot of "should." Should is nice and all, but we live in a world of "is."

Dave In Indiana said...

Much ado about nothing. The law was meant to protect mom & pop stores from being sued out of business by law firms claiming to represent the perpetual victim class.

Pretty easy to get by the law. If you're seeking the services of a business that you suspect might have a problem with you, then don't reveal information that they might find offensive. I'm by no means a religious person, but it's very clear that discrimination is a two way street with all of you people. That's why I want to retire as a hermit on a mountain top in Montana and shoot all that trespass on my turf.

Roberta X said...

I'm a "you people" now? --The stated intent of this law was nothing of the sort. The impact of this law (and the reaction to it) is simply what's known as "signalling:" favoring or opposing it is a flag people wave to show they are (by their own lights) One Of The Good Guys. And that signalling is costing this state business.

Some more signalling: the people chosen to be present at the signing of this bill by the Governor were nearly all vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. There's a message there. It didn't just happen.

Indiana's law is broader than the Federal law and similar laws in other states. This may not matter, since these laws are almost never used.

But the *problem* is that "signalling" thing, because a lot of businesses and other organizations felt that they had to signal in opposition to it -- and those signals took the form of not doing business with or in our state.

So what we have here is a law unlikely to get much use, enacted by a government that figured it was unambiguously demonstrating support for very traditional, conservative Christianity (which is not in and of itself a bad thing, as long as they don't play favorites), that has backfired in a manner that was clearly unexpected: it looks to me as if it was never going to do more than a tiny bit of good and now it has done great harm. IMO, that's a law we don't need.

YMMV and I'm fine with that -- if you're a Hoosier, let your legislators know your judgement pro or con and encourage them to do what you have determined is the right thing. That's how this goofy "government" thing works. Us agreeing or disagreeing on the Internet is just a sideshow.

Rob K said...

That signalling goes both ways. So a company that has never turned a profit once has loudly announced they won't soak the city for 18.5M$ in return for empty promises? And Apple, who's happy to do business with Muslim countries where they execute homosexuals for being homosexuals and women have to wear burquas and can't drive, he really won't do business with us now? How do homosexuals or Christians fare in China, where Apple's products are made? Tim Cook is happy to have his products manufactured by people who would put me in jail for my beliefs if I were a citizen of their country. I don't particularly relish his business.

How many very profitable companies are now quietly looking at Indiana as a good place to be? If Chick-fil-a (yummy hate chicken!) and Hobby Lobby and a 1000 other businesses decide that Indiana's a good place to do business where they'll be safe from government meddling, and they bring 200,000 jobs because of it, would that make it worth it to you? Would that make it "right" in your eyes? Would that make it not a public-relations disaster to you?

Is right and justice determined by the highest bidder? Is that what liberty is? Promises of jobs and business money?

Roberta X said...

I've already pointed out that both sides are signalling, but the business community isn't on Eric Miller's side.

Rob: so, can you point to one (1) business that looked at this law and said it was gonna bring them to Indiana?

I'm not going to pick and choose among businesses -- Chik-Fil-A and Angie's List both *employ* people here, people who get paid and spend their pay, in large part, right here. (Chik-Fil-A is happy to sell *anyone* a tasty chicken sammich, too: disapproving of some of their customers marriages doesn't extend to not wanting their money. They've even gone on record saying that.)

"Is right and justice determined by the highest bidder? Is that what liberty is? Promises of jobs and business money?"

"Right and justice" isn't something I trust a government to handle for me -- I'll generally go along with whatever kind of addled SNAFU 51% of my fellow-citizens, via their elected buffoons, want to have and if it conflicts with my own notions of what is just and proper, I'll go around it with nary a qualm.

What I want from governments is that they refrain from screwing up whatever entity -- city, county, state, nation -- they're entrusted to run. Indiana's failed to do so.

Government, here in the United States, is and has always been a *secular* matter, in charge of building roads, coining money and maintaining the peace. It's supposed to stay the heck out of the way as much as possible. Adding more laws does not aid in that.

Can you give me *any* example of a wrong in Indiana that this law would have put right? --Looking for actual harm, like a business bankrupted by lawsuits; there is no right not to be aghast at the kinds of things one's fellow citizens get up to, so long as they are not breaking the law.

A long time ago, a political thinker opined that it was better for ten guilty men to go free, if that was what it took to ensure no innocent men were wrongly convicted. That's the gold standard for understanding the imperfect nature of government-determined justice. I am far from convinced that Indiana's RFRA errs on the side of caution, and far from convinced that the First Amendment (and Section 2 and 3 in Indiana's constitution, which is very strong indeed) needed any kind of add-on to protect religion.

We're not going to change one another's opinions on this, nor can we solve it here. Contact your witling in the statehouse -- I intend to berate my supposed minion there.

Vinnie said...

And the unintended consequences start'

Will said...

I like the fact that your commenters are willing to discuss this subject with a minimum of MSM created and directed emotional baggage.

I'll second the call for most laws to be struck from the books. When laws have to be crafted to fix the bad results of other laws, I'm thinking the entire lot written on the subject should be tossed. Any law that controls people should be very carefully examined, as most violate the original intent of the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights.

rickn8or said...

Looks like Arkansas was feeling left out and lonely and jonesing for some abuse:

And Vinnie, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg re: unintended consequences.

I DO SO love to watch people spin around on their eyebrows...

Joseph said...

Unintended? These laws started with a defense of religions that used odd drugs.

Anonymous said...

An interesting historical and legal analysis of RFRA and religious exemptions, from Eugene Volokh: