Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Indiana Boycott News

The question Indiana's Governor Pence, can't or won't, answer
by Steve Benen
If Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was looking for a way to raise his national visibility in advance of a possible presidential candidate, his new right-to-discriminate law, if nothing else, has given him the national spotlight.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Sunday defended his decision to sign a religious freedom bill into law, saying that it was “absolutely not” a mistake.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” the Republican governor repeatedly dodged questions on whether the law would legally allow people of Indiana to refuse service to gay and lesbians, saying that residents of the state are “nice” and don’t discriminate and that “this is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith.”
The interview between the Republican governor and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos featured an extraordinary exchange that matters quite a bit. The host noted, for example, that one of Pence’s own allies said the new state law is intended to “protect those who oppose gay marriage,” leading Stephanopoulos to ask whether a “florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?”
The governor replied, “This is not about discrimination,” which wasn’t an answer. So, Stephanopoulos asked again, “Yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?” Pence dodged again.
To his credit, the host pressed on, and again the governor wouldn’t answer. Which led to Stephanopoulos’ fourth effort: “So when you say tolerance is a two way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service … to gays and lesbians, that it’s now legal in the state of Indiana? That’s the simple yes-or-no question.”
Once more, the GOP governor simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t answer.
It was a cringe-worthy display. I’m not even sure why Pence agreed to do the interview in the first place – the Indiana Republican had to know the question was coming, but the governor was visibly stuck, refusing to respond to the most obvious element of the entire debate.
And while Pence struggles to defend a pro-discrimination statute, the backlash to the conservative law has intensified in recent days.
Angie’s List, an online concierge to find companies to perform various household maintenance, announced Saturday it was halting a planned expansion to its campus in Indianapolis over the new law, according to CEO Bill Oesterle.
This coincided with protests at the Indiana Capitol, on top of concerns raised by a wide variety of national businesses, groups, and leaders. A Washington Post op-ed from Apple CEO Tim Cook this morning raises the stakes further.
The governor said Saturday he’ll “support the introduction of legislation to ‘clarify’ ” that the Indiana law “does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians” – an effort that’s no doubt intended to calm the waters – but Pence added yesterday during the ABC interview, “Look, we’re not going to change the law, OK?”
Actually, no, it may not be “OK” with opponents of discrimination that Pence intends to leave the new law intact.
* Postscript: One man claiming to be an Indiana business owner says he’s already begun discriminating against gay customers, taking advantage of the new law, but the man’s story has not been corroborated.
 Boycott Indiana

My husband Brad and I like to spend our holidays in the White Mountains of Arizona. There’s a small town called Show Low where we’ve passed many a merry Christmas. We’ve been regulars at the July 4th parades there, entertained friends and family over the years, and consider it our home away from home. But last year, it was very nearly going to be impossible for us to travel back to Arizona in good conscience. You see, at that time, Arizona was on the verge of passing a bill that would have made us feel entirely unwelcome.

The so-called “Religious Freedom Bill” would have allowed proprietors of establishments open to the public to refuse to serve customers if doing so would violate the “sincerely held” religious beliefs of the owner. On the surface, the proposed law seemed like a neutral way to protect the First Amendment rights of business owners.
  But beneath that surface lurked a dangerous and divisive effect, granting hotels, bars and restaurants the right to refuse to serve LGBT persons and couples such as Brad and me, simply because our love did not comport with the religious views of the owners. 

But thanks to pressures upon the governor’s office in days before she was set to sign the law, and in the face of a boycott of the state by tourists and the NFL, which threatened to move the Super Bowl to Pasadena, Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately decided to veto the law. Tolerance and equality won out that day.
Although we faced and defeated that challenge, many similar fires began to rage across the nation. A similar law went into effect in Mississippi not long after, and another measure in Arkansas is about to slip quietly into place there. And just this past week, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed that state’s “Religious Freedom” bill, despite strong opposition from all manner of corporate citizens, religious leaders, and even athletic organizations, such as the NCAA.

Gov. Pence shamelessly pandered to the right wing of his party, perhaps because he is eyeing a run for the White House, or perhaps because he simply does not understand that bigotry, cloaked as religious protection, is still bigotry.I have called for a boycott of Indiana by companies, conventions and tourists, not only to send a clear message to Indiana, but also to help stop the further erosion of our core civil values in other parts of this country. Indeed, bills like those passed in Mississippi and Indiana are now pending in many other states. Their backers seek to convey to LGBT people that our human rights are not inviolate, and that we may, and will, be treated as second-class citizens. That is what lies at heart of this issue; those are the values at stake.
  I myself am a Buddhist, not a Christian. But I cannot help but think that if Christ ran a public establishment, it would be open to all, and He would be the last to refuse service to anyone. It is, simply put, the most un-Christian of notions.

So let us be clear what this is really about: divisive politics. The far right has lost the war over marriage equality, and quickly. It now has staked out a new ground and shrouded itself ostensibly within the ambit of the First Amendment – for who can deny that we ought to give religious freedom its full and fair due? It seeks refuge in the recent, and regrettable, U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Hobby Lobby, which appeared to open the door for exceptions to “government regulation” in the name of protecting religious beliefs.

Taken too far, such laws carry with them the corrosive effect of intolerance, and they harken back to the days where people like Brad and I could not marry, not because of our gender, but because of our race. I was born in a time where such laws against the mixing of races were viewed as the natural extension of God’s will, and I know how powerfully oppressive and insidious they can be. Some fifty years ago, it was not so uncommon for interracial couples to be shunned and turned out.We live in a pluralistic and civil society, where our social contract demands we sometimes relinquish individual liberties in the name of a more just and open society. This means that while we are all entitled to our religious beliefs, the extent and impact of those beliefs, and what we may impose because of them, stops at the tips of our noses. This also means we must learn to respect and, yes, even love our neighbors, despite our differences.
  I cannot help but think of Pope Francis going out of the Vatican to wash the feet of non-believers, setting an example for us all: Our differences in beliefs do not truly separate us, or elevate us over others. Rather, they highlight the rich tapestry that is humanity.

The doors of a school or a restaurant or a business, held open to the public, must be open to all. The days are over where some may be denied a seat at the table simply because of who they are – or in this case, whom they love. We cannot, and must not, march backward from where we have come.
George Takei is an actor, social justice activist, social media mega-power and star of the upcoming Broadway musical “Allegiance.”
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long (R) called a press conference on Monday to further “clarify” and “fix” the state’s recently-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics contend could open the door to anti-LGBT discrimination
 Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has been facing fierce backlash for signing the law. One company said it was not expanding because of it, while Apple CEO Tim Cook called it “dangerous” and “bad for business.” The NCAA said it was concerned about the decision, given the upcoming Final Four games in the state’s capital, Indianapolis.

Rep. Bosma said the law was not intended or designed to discriminate against gays or lesbians, and urged his colleagues to take action to immediately clarify the “effect” of the bill.

“What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion — inclusion of all religious beliefs,” Bosma said. “What instead has come out is a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent, and hopefully not the effect. But to the extent it is, we’re intent on righting that.”

Long said he’s never seen the type of reaction to Indiana’s bill that similar ones passed in other states or the federal government received, adding he and his colleagues didn’t see it coming. He said they hope to have a “fix” to the bill soon.


Church Of Marijuana gets boost from Indiana's anti-gay 'religious freedom' bill.
Matt Ferner
Huffington Post

Indiana's new "religious freedom" law has been widely criticized and condemned by many, but an innovative marijuana activist in the state is using the bill's legal protections as a means to set up a new religious sect -- the First Church of Cannabis, where members would aim to use marijuana freely as a sacrament in a state where the substance remains banned.

"It's a new religion for people who happen to live in our day and age," Bill Levin, the church's founder, told The Huffington Post in an interview Monday. "All these old religions, guys walking across the desert without Dr. Scholls inserts, drinking wine out of goat bladders, no compass, speaking Latin and Hebrew -- I cannot relate to that shit. I drive by Burger Kings, bars and corn fields. I cannot relate to an antique magic book."

As Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday, Levin was filing church registration paperwork with the secretary of state, which was approved on Friday, he announced on the church's Facebook page.

Levin is dead-serious about his new church. He says it's founded on universal principals of love, respect, equality and compassion. And similarly to other religious movements like the Rastafarians in Jamaica who see cannabis use as a sacrament, Levin said members of his church will adopt a similar belief in the plant. But unlike the Rastas, there is not a traditional deity at the top of this faith.

"It has nothing to do with God; I don't have the balls to describe a god to anybody," Levin said. "This is a god-filled or godless religion -- it's entirely up to you."

Last week, as he began sketching out the details of his new church, he wrote out the foundational tenets of the faith, which he called the "New Deity Dozen" and provided to The Huffington Post. Levin says these are not commandments.

"I'm not telling you to do it. I'm a skeptic, these are paths that are simply available to you; use them if you like," Levin said. He said the church is founded on 12 principles:
  • Don't be an asshole. Treat everyone with love as an equal.
  • The day starts with your smile every morning when you get up, wear it first.
  • Help others when you can. Not for money, but because it's needed.
  • Treat your body as a temple. Do not poison it with poor quality foods and sodas.
  • Do not take advantage of people. Do not intentionally hurt anything.
  • Never start a fight ... only finish them.
  • Grow food, raise animals, get nature into your daily routine.
  • Do not be a "troll" on the internet, respect others without name calling and being vulgarly aggressive.
  • Spend at least 10 minutes a day just contemplating life in a quiet space.
  • When you see a bully... stop them by any means possible. Protect those who cannot protect themselves.
  • Laugh often, share humor. Have fun in life, be positive.
  • Cannabis, "the Healing Plant" is our sacrament. It brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.
As for sacred texts, the First Church of Cannabis won't look toward traditional religious books like the Bible or Quran.

"We're going to have a 'good book,'" Levin said. "The first good book that we're going to authorize in the church and share is the first good book we all read." Levin says that's The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy, a classic cannabis history book by Jack Herer, first published in 1985.

"It's an educational bible about our number one sacrament," Levin said, adding that he hopes to make copies available for potential members of the new faith.

Levin is strongly against his state's controversial RFRA, but he said he'll take full advantage of the legal loopholes the bill may create. No stranger to marijuana advocacy, Levin has worked for years to change the laws in his home state through an organization he founded, Relegalize Indiana.

"I fought this bill tooth and nail," Levin said. "And because of our brave and brilliant governor," he continued, his voice brimming with sarcasm, "he opened up the door for me to take my campaign to religion. The state will not interfere with religious belief -- well buddy, my religious belief is green with red hairs, and boy do I like to smoke it."

Marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, so it remains unclear if Levin's plan would work under current state laws. While a church that includes sacramental marijuana use is not without precedent, and several have emerged in the United States with varying degrees of success, much of their ability to survive hinges on a state at least decriminalizing marijuana, if not legalizing it for limited purpose. But Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, an Indiana attorney and political commentator, told RawStory that if Levin can convince the state that, under the RFRA, smoking marijuana is part of his religion's practices, he may have "a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

Levin says the announcement of the church has created a firestorm of interest and support. He set up a crowdfunding account last week when the church first received notice that its registration was approved by the state, and as of Monday morning, the church had already raised close to $2,000. He also says that he has personally received thousands of messages of support, and hundreds of people ready to volunteer to help him with his mission. The church's Facebook page, set up just days ago, already has more than 5,000 likes.

Levin said that with the funds he receives, he wants to "rent a building for at least the first year."
"I want to have a place where everyone can go," he said, adding that the church won't provide marijuana to the congregation because they don't want to break federal laws. But if he is able to find a space, he said, he will welcome the use of marijuana by members.

"If people do come to church and feel like celebrating, my church is going to allow smoking because it's part of our sacrament. Hallelujah, brother -- pray, pray, pray."

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story only stated the Church of Cannabis founder's last name. The story has been updated to include his full name.


Mike Pence Dodges Criticism by calling Critics Intolerant.
by Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim
The Huffington Post

This weekend, on ABC News' "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos rather conscientiously attempted to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who was invited to clarify the unique language of his state's recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That "yes" or "no" question, "Can a florist in Indiana refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment," was dodged by Pence, as were additional iterations, ranging from whether the law's general intent was to enshrine the right of private business owners to deny service to customers for religious reasons, to whether Pence personally believed that such discrimination was lawful.

Stephanopoulos insisted that the question was relevant, because one of the law's supporters, Eric Miller of Advance America, specifically cited the ability of private business owners to refuse service to members of the LGBT community as one of the Indiana law's major, and particular, selling points. Stephanopoulos offered Pence multiple chances to either correct Miller's contention, or to publicly confirm that it was true.

Pence never answered one way or the other. Instead, showing an Ed Milliband-like flair for repeating one's talking points, Pence largely stuck to his script, insisting that the Indiana law was in no relevant way distinct from similar laws -- including the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed decades ago and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. (This is not, in fact, true.) At a point, though, you can see the patience drain from Pence's face, as he offered one intriguing deviation from his flash cards:
PENCE: George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two-way street or not? I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. And a -- but here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.
Here, Pence is retreating to a rhetorical fortress of sofa pillows that some conservatives often crawl behind when the sentiments of the vox populi bend in the direction of calling them out for bigotry. You liberals want everyone to be tolerant! But you're not tolerant of us! Gotcha!

There is so much confusion tied up in that defense, it might seem senseless to even try to untangle it. In terms of the ever-growing national support for LGBT rights, especially, the argument sounds like the death rattle of an old way of thinking that's quickly going extinct. But given how often people like Pence deploy this argument, it's worth giving disentangling it a shot. Let's start at a basic level: To be tolerant does not mean that one must be tolerant of intolerance. Okay? If you tolerate intolerance, you have, well ... promulgated intolerance. That would seem a self-affirming point, but it clearly is not obvious to the Pences of the world, so let's peel it back further.

When a person says, "Hey, let's please be tolerant of others, even if they are of a different race or gender or creed or religion or sexual orientation," what is typically meant is that such people should be treated equally by society. They should have the same legal rights and opportunities as everybody else. The same fair shot at carving out a decent life. That's what most people mean when they talk about being tolerant. Critically, what is not being demanded is universal agreement, or even universal acceptance. Indeed, the ability to countenance our occasional disagreements and allow for criticism in a tolerant manner is something that makes our society stronger.

What Pence is doing, unfortunately, is confusing criticism for intolerance. Right now, the wide world is learning about Indiana's law, discovering that it is in many meaningful ways different from previous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, and reacting with a collective "Duh fuh?" This reaction, as much as Pence would prefer to believe otherwise, is a thing that's well beyond the coordination and control of a monolithic "Left." But even if it were, the simple fact of the matter is that criticism of the law is absolutely legitimate. There's nothing distinctly unfair or intolerant in debating or critiquing the actions of lawmakers or the laws they pass. That's just the price of doing business in politics.

And speaking of, there is a price of doing business in business as well. A law that forbids discriminating against customers based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or et cetera -- that, my friends, is the real two-way street. What is a "two-way street" after all, if not a promise to everyone traveling upon it that bright yellow lines, illegal to cross, run right down the center? What Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its unique statutory language has done is remove those sensible yellow lines. Gone is a world in which people walking into private businesses can be assured they won't be discriminated against. Now, in this new Indiana, business owners face the undue burden of having to publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing fair and equal customer service. What was once automatically assumed -- the neighborly, amicable relationship between business and customer -- has become something that everyone now has to double-check and newly ensure.

Part of what Pence describes as an "avalanche of intolerance" is the reaction from those recognizing that a line has been crossed, who are now resolved to withhold their custom from the state of Indiana until such time as the previous, two-way street regime is restored. Pence is incorrect to describe this as "intolerance." What Pence needs to understand is that this reaction is simply the natural consequence of the actions he took as governor.

The assurance of fair, non-discriminatory business practices is, as it turns out, pretty essential in a competitive marketplace. And when you take away that assurance, you imperil your ability to compete. Just as an openly discriminatory florist opens itself up to the risk that not enough people will want to continue doing business with it to maintain that business, so too does an openly discriminatory state endanger its ability to maintain itself economically.

Those are the consequences. And consequences have nothing to do with tolerance. All the states that Indiana competes with for economic benefactors will happily tolerate Indiana's law all the way to the bank. Anyone who tells you that "tolerance" is supposed to provide everyone with the means of living a consequence-free existence has badly lost the thread.

If there's something meaningful to be learned here, however, it's that talking about tolerance is much easier than building and maintaining a tolerant society. It should be acknowledged that this Indiana law exists because of a tension between differing communities of people, and different schools of thought. Resolving this tension will take hard work. But it's precisely hard and conscientious work that everyone deserves. To be tolerant is to acknowledge this, and to seek reasonable reconciliations and accommodations in instances like this. Were Pence a more conscientious governor, he'd recognize that the solution that's been crafted is neither sufficiently reasonable, nor sufficiently accommodating, and he'd resolve to work harder at achieving something that is.

His protestations of intolerance aside, Pence is fully entitled to believe that gay people are icky, or Godless, or whatever he wants. He just can't -- without criticism -- enshrine the right to discriminate into the law. No one is stopping anyone from having these opinions, coming on television to express that opinion, or even holding office while possessing these views. You just can't have a whites-only lunch counter, or a straights-only bakery. Or, perhaps in Indiana, you can, but if you do, then people who are being discriminated against have a right to encourage people to take their business elsewhere and criticize those business practices. And those on the receiving end of that reaction will, unfortunately, have to tolerate that.

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