Finally Establishing the Legal Right to Do Wrong

From January 21, 2009, through January 5, 2015, the always controversial Jan Brewer was governor of Arizona, and it was quite a ride. It was high drama, all the time, but she was born out here in Hollywood, so of course she had a bit of the drama queen about her. After a short career as a chiropractor and then a real estate agent, she got into Republican politics and rose quickly, because she was right out there, in your face, being boldly ultraconservative. There is that iconic 2012 photo of her wagging her finger in President Obama’s face – screaming at him about his immigration policies that were going to ruin America for all the good white folks. That wasn’t the welcome he expected at the Phoenix airport that day, but she got her photo-op. Fox News loved it. Rush Limbaugh loved it. It would do.

Two years earlier she had said that “law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded” – those illegal immigrants crossing over were beheading good white folks left and right, and it’s all in the files of this agency or that. No law enforcement agency knew what the hell she was talking about. Brewer later said she “misspoke” – which wasn’t exactly taking it back. But she did sign Arizona SB 1070 into law, the show-your-papers legislation that charged law enforcement at all levels with the task of demanding that anyone who looked even slightly Hispanic prove that they had the right to be here, or go to jail until they could prove it. That seemed a bit much, and SB 1070 was largely eviscerated by the courts, but she had made her point. In 2011, Brewer stopped Medicaid funding for organ transplants to save the state a million and a half dollars. Ninety eight patients were waiting for transplants. She caught crap for that, and the funding was restored, but she had made her point, and there’s this:

Jan Brewer signed a law repealing legislation put into place by former governor Janet Napolitano, which had granted domestic partners of state employees the ability to be considered as “dependents”, similar to the way married spouses are handled.

According to an editorial in the Arizona Daily Star on October 13, 2009, the Department of Administration in Arizona “stated that about 800 state employees are affected and that the cost to insure domestic partners is about $3 million of the $625 million the state spends on benefits”. However, the state was giving those employees another year of coverage, due to legal necessity: “A legal review determined existing contracts with state employees will be honored.”

She was foiled by contract law, but again, she had made her point. Someone has to stand up and say gay is just not normal, and it shouldn’t ever be treated as such. She’d be that person. By the way, one of her sons was declared not guilty by reason of insanity for the rape of a Phoenix woman in 1989, and he has been a psychiatric patient for twenty-five years in the Arizona State Hospital. She says that gives her perspective – because she’s not crazy.

No, really, she isn’t. She proved that in February 2014:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have opened the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians. It was a swift and major victory for gay rights after a week of sustained pressure from corporations, lawmakers, the NFL, and even Major League Baseball, all of which urged Brewer to veto the bill.

“After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago,” Brewer said in a televised statement Wednesday night. She said the bill had been broadly worded and did not address any identifiable “concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.”

The religious right wept, but there was no choice:

SB 1062 would have allowed businesses to turn away gay and lesbians based on claims of sincerely held religious beliefs. Supporters of the bill argued it would protect “religious freedom.” But opponents saw it as sweeping discrimination that would harm the community.

Brewer, a Republican governor who is familiar with taking the national stage to weigh in on social issues from guns to immigration, is no progressive. But in the end, she caved to Big Business – a strong constituent-base with major clout in Arizona – over the religious right.

Apple, Intel, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, PetSmart, Yelp, Delta and American Airlines all denounced the proposed legislation. The NFL wouldn’t rule out the possibility of moving Super Bowl XLIX – due to take place next year at University of Phoenix Stadium – in protest.

No, she’s not crazy, but at the time, others were:

On Tuesday, Georgia became the latest state to consider legislation that could sanction discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Similar legislation was introduced this week in Missouri. And the state House of Representatives in Kansas passed its version earlier this month, before it became stalled in the state Senate.

Things stalled everywhere, but now it finally happened:

Bucking intense criticism from citizens, celebrities, tech leaders, and convention customers, Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law on Thursday. Opponents warn the measure will sanction discrimination against LGBT people, and cost the Hoosier State millions in tourism revenue.

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” the governor said in a statement released shortly after he signed Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.) “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Yeah, the government tells them that they cannot turn away gay customers, or black customers, or short customers, depending on their religious beliefs about who is a sinner and must be cast out. Mike Pence thinks that’s a shame, and an intrusion by government into religion, so this bill fixes that:

The new law will prohibit a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it’s relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest. It’s modeled off of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which gained notoriety in the Supreme Court’s controversial Hobby Lobby ruling last year. That decision found that closely-held corporations wouldn’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate if the owners had a sincerely-held religious objection to birth control.

Supporters say RFRA is designed to protect people’s religious beliefs from unnecessary government intrusion. But opponents argue the measure serves as a license to discriminate, particularly against LGBT people, on religious grounds.

Here we go again:

In the past week, a wide array of critics put pressure on Pence to veto the measure, including actor and director George Takei, the CEO of Salesforce, and the organizers of Gen Con – billed on its website as “the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world.” Adrian Swartout, CEO and owner of Gen Con LLC, said in a letter addressed to Pence that if Indiana’s RFRA became law, he would consider moving the convention to a different state in future years – a move that’s expected to cost Indiana more than $50 million annually.

But Pence pushed back against the accusation that the religious freedom measure would open the door to discrimination.

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” he said. “In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

Some don’t see it that way, and this is telling:

Pence signed the measure during a private ceremony just before 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Members of the media were not allowed to even be in the waiting area of the governor’s office, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Ah, but folks noticed:

Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said in a statement Thursday that the Indianapolis-based NCAA was “especially concerned” about how the legislation would affect student athletes and employees.

“We will work diligently to assure student athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” the statement read. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Emmert’s statement should concern Pence – not only because Indianapolis is set to host next month’s Division 1 Men’s Championship, but also because the NCAA could decide to move several big money events set to take place in the Hoosier State over the next year. Those include the 2015 Big Ten Football Championship Game, scheduled for Dec. 5, the 2016 Women’s Final Four, scheduled for April of next year, and the 2016 Olympic Trials for diving. All three events are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.

With less than 10 days to go before the Men’s Final Four, it would be impossible for the NCAA to relocate the championship over concerns about the new law. However, the events scheduled further in the future could be in jeopardy.

And there’s this:

Salesforce Cancels All Indiana Travel

That’s exactly what Salesforce, a $4 billion tech company based in San Francisco which increased its presence in Indiana in 2013, is planning to do now that the RFRA has become law.

The CEO of the company, valued at $4 billion and listed on the prestigious Standard & Poor 500, authored an open letter to Indiana lawmakers urging them to reject the bill last week. Now that Gov. Pence has signed the bill into law, Mike Benioff, CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Division, says his company has no choice but to “dramatically reduce” its investment in Indiana. In a series of tweets, Benioff, a 50-year-old man married to a woman, announced the company was canceling all of its programs that required employees to customers to travel to Indiana, and encouraged other tech companies to follow suit.

That’s trouble, and Eric Rosenbaum at CNBC sees nothing but trouble:

The new law allows businesses to use an owner’s faith as a reason to refuse service to customers, including same-sex married couples. The risks from the act range from potential workplace lawsuits on religious grounds to a broader and deeper business chill in the Hoosier State with money-making conferences and major corporations threatening to pull out, with difficulty attracting key job creators like tech sector companies, and with a wide-ranging ripple effect on small-business owners.

The governor’s move comes during a sensitive period of time for Indiana’s economy – it has shown signs of a small-business boom in recent years, and has fared relatively well in job creation and new-company formation, but is also seeking to break out from the sluggish growth that has typified the post-crisis economic recovery.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce would only say that the thing was unnecessary, but others weren’t so tepid:

Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins, the world’s largest diesel engine maker – which has been among the nation’s most outspoken business voices against LGBT discrimination statutes – publicly opposed the new law in strong terms, fearing a weakened hand for corporations based in Indiana when trying to lure top talent to the state.

“We’re disappointed with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said a Cummins spokesman. “Cummins believes it’s bad for business and bad for Indiana and sends the message that the state is unwelcoming.” He added, “We are a global company in a competitive environment and it could hinder our ability to attract and retain top talent.”

There is that talent issue:

Timothy Slaper, who directs the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University, said while critics point to convention dollars lost from events like Super Bowls, the real threat is to the future growth of Indiana’s economy. It is still dominated by traditional industries, including agriculture and auto manufacturing.

“I’m more concerned about the longer-term cultural implications in terms of the magnetism of the state to attract the young creative class,” Slaper said. “The engineers or artists you want to have in your city and state to cultivate the ecosystem for entrepreneurs. It’s the location decisions of companies like Salesforce and attracting this brain power for the next several decades.”

Slaper said new industries will have the greatest effect on Indiana’s economy. “We’ll never see an increase in per capita income if all we do is attract standard manufacturing jobs. The jobs that pay well are engineers and designers and marketers and if we’re not able to attract those workers in the occupation class; it’s gonna be a tough road to hoe,” Slaper said.

He noted that even in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and medical devices have been among the growth areas, and those are areas where engineers are among the top talent. “We’re relying on our old core strengths in an age when we need to be a little more aspirational.”

“Indiana desperately needs hipster brains. This probably isn’t a great way to cultivate them,” Slaper added.

Everyone knows this:

The Indy Chamber, which represents the economic interests of the state’s largest city, said in a statement that it remains opposed to the “divisive and unnecessary law.”

Its president and CEO Michael Huber said: “We warned of the impending negative economic impact this legislation would have on our ability to attract and retain jobs, talent and investment, noting the bill will encourage current and potential residents, and visitors to take their business elsewhere. Within moments of this legislation being signed, this warning became a stark reality. The Indy Chamber pledges to work with our partners across the state to strengthen nondiscrimination policies at the state and local level. This is clearly not how we want to be perceived and is not reflective of how we do business in Indianapolis.”

Mike Pence really stepped into it, and Paul Waldman sees what comes next:

The Indiana bill is part of a wave of recent legislation seeking to guarantee “religious freedom” on the part of organizations or businesses who want to retain the right to discriminate against gay people. While the advocates usually posit a baker who doesn’t want to have to take business from a gay couple seeking a wedding cake as the person the law would protect, the laws are often written so vaguely that they would allow almost any kind of discrimination, so long as the discriminator justifies it on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The bill in Indiana doesn’t mention words like “gay” at all. It merely says that the government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” And a key element of the conservative Christian argument about religious freedom is that “exercise” of religion isn’t just about rituals and prayer and worship; it extends to everything, including commerce.

The implications are therefore enormous. Forget about the baker — what if you own a restaurant and think homosexuality is an abomination, and therefore you want to hang a “No gays allowed” sign in your window? Under this law, you’d be able to. Or what if you’re a Muslim who owns an auto repair shop and you want to refuse to serve women, because you say your religion tells you that women shouldn’t drive?

Those kinds of concerns are what led former governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill in Arizona, after she got all kinds of pressure from the state’s business community, which feared boycotts of the state.

Mike Pence isn’t that sane, even if the bar here is low, and what comes next is Republican chaos:

The more news this Indiana law gets, the more likely it is that it will become an issue in the presidential primaries. And it fits neatly within the key divide among Republicans: on one side you could have business groups that are nervous about negative economic impacts and strategists who don’t want the GOP to be known as the party of discrimination, while on the other side you have candidates eager for the votes of religious right primary voters.

I have no doubt that candidates like Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, or Mike Huckabee will rush to support the Indiana law. The real question is what happens with the candidates who want to get as much support as they can from conservative Christians but also want to appeal to the more moderate voters (and funders) who may not be so pleased with these kinds of laws. Those candidates also surely know that general election voters will be much less favorably inclined toward this law, and that it could well fit into a broad theme of Republicans as intolerant, not only on issues affecting gay people but on immigration as well. If you’re Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, this could be a very tricky issue to confront.

And John Cole has two quick questions:

1.) What criteria will business owners be using to determine who is and who is not gay? Ordering a latte? Saying please? Not liking President Bush? Or do you just have to be suspiciously gay-like to impinge enough on someone’s religious freedom to warrant being denied service.

2.) As the Klan also operated under the auspices of Christianity, what is to keep businesses from kicking out or denying service to blacks, and when confronted, just say “Oh, we didn’t kick them out because they were black, we kicked them out because they were gay.”

This is a mess, and Andy Borowitz has the final word:

In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion.

Pence said that he hoped the law would protect millions of state residents “who, like me, have been practicing this religion passionately for years.”

The bill would grant politicians like Pence the right to observe their faith freely, even if their practice of stupidity costs the state billions of dollars.

While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. “Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,” she said.

When Jan Brewer becomes the face of sanity and reason and tolerance… Damn, there’s no way to finish that sentence. How did this happen?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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