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Blacks and RFRA

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Responding to heavy criticism from businesses, religious groups and citizens, Republican Gov. Mike Pence said additional legislation is necessary to clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) he signed into law last week, and maintains the law does not allow discrimination.

“I’ve come to the conclusion it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear this law does not give businesses the right to discriminate against anyone,” said Pence, during a news conference Tuesday.

RFRA critics expressed concern that the new law unfairly targets the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

However, others are now asking if a Hoosier business could use RFRA to discriminate against Black customers in the name of religion.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said he believes RFRA shouldn’t affect Blacks because they are protected under the 14th Amendment, which addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War.

Yet, Porter admitted he’s concerned.

“However, it could be interpreted differently. Say I go somewhere and they know I’m living with someone before marriage, a business may say they don’t want to serve me,” said Porter. “It is a slippery slope so it could affect African-Americans or any individual a business feels they can discriminate against.”

He adds that though Blacks are legally protected from discrimination based on their skin color, this law reminds him of times past.

“This reminds me of Gov. George Wallace of Alabama standing on those steps denying people the right to education, and when I went to Selma and how all those people were hurt on ‘Bloody Sunday’ marching for the right to vote. Today people are doing this and are hiding behind religion as a way to discriminate,” said Porter.

Some argue that Blacks in Indiana should be wary of RFRA due to the fact that the state lacks a hate crime law.

Instead what Indiana has is a law that defines a hate crime, but doesn’t stipulate any enhanced penalties for committing one. Therefore, unless the case attracts federal attention and intervention, perpetrators are typically charged with crimes directly linked to the act, such as intimidation, vandalism or criminal mischief.

Forty-five other states have hate crime laws.

Terri Jett, associate professor of political science at Butler University said none of this matters because despite measures already in place, Blacks face discrimination on a daily basis and cites examples such as racial profiling and unfair housing practices.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said though Blacks shouldn’t fear the controversial law, RFRA does open the door to discrimination.

“Any time you allow discrimination for one group of people, it’s hard not to discriminate against others. Today it’s the LGBT community, tomorrow it may be women or even African-Americans,” said Pryor.

She said Democrats mobilized prior to Pence’s signing of SB 101. Democrats, who comprise a minority party in both the House and Senate, unanimously voted against RFRA.

“If you are a Christian you’re supposed to welcome everyone and not just people who think, live or look like you,” added Pryor.

Though the entire State of Indiana has been under attack and embarrassed by Pence’s actions, Maggie Lewis, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council, says she believes the capital city was hit especially hard.

“I’m very disappointed we’ve gotten national attention over something as ridiculous as RFRA,” said Lewis. “It hits Indianapolis the hardest. We are the economic engine to this state and we’ve already seen examples of what this act will do.”

Local company Angie’s List has pulled a business upgrade proposal from the City-County Council and Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association has spoken out against RFRA. Even global companies such as Nike and Apple are speaking out against the legislation.

“Economic development isn’t just bricks and mortar anymore. High-tech companies don’t need a building. They can pick up their computers and go somewhere else,” added Porter.

The City-County Council passed a resolution urging legislators to appeal RFRA.

In addition to voicing opinions about repealing RFRA, Porter, Pryor and Lewis said Hoosiers should continue to exercise their voice in the political process by voting. Pryor said a bill similar to RFRA was brought to legislators last year yet this year the bill had wings. The public should also take note of who voted for and against RFRA.

“The governor said people aren’t telling the truth, but everybody can’t be wrong,” said Porter.

For more coverage on the developments on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), visit Indianapolisrecorder.com.

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