Pence Signs “Religious Liberty” Bill, Says Everybody’s Doing It

To no one’s surprise, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a “religious liberty” bill that has spurred threats of convention boycotts, including one from the sponsors of GenCon, the largest “gamer” convention in the country, and another from the Indiana-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination (which happens to be my own).

There were two things about Pence’s action that were interesting as opposed to just infuriating. Here’s one:

A large group attended the private signing ceremony just before 10 a.m. The ceremony was closed to the public and the press. Members of the media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

Yet Pence’s office released a photo with a rainbow coalition of clergy and religious, reinforcing his efforts to treat this as a “tribute” to people of faith rather than a declaration of independence from anti-discrimination laws.

The second was Pence’s implicit reaction to the boycott threats. In his post-signing press conference, he stressed the number of states who had also enacted “religious liberty” statutes (or had constitutional provisions being interpreted as protecting discrimination), and also ignored arguments Indiana’s bill was unusually broad, and basically said “everybody’s doing it.”

Developments in Indiana got some attention down in Georgia, where the legislature is considering similar legislation. But expressions of concern about the possible impact on convention-heavy Atlanta were brushed aside amidst Republican measures to reject amendments that would minimize conflict with existing anti-discrimination laws.

I’d say one important lesson for opponents of this retrograde effort is to be as clear as possible in separating the mildly offensive sheep from the really unacceptable goats among various “religious liberty” efforts, and target protests accordingly. But it does seem Indiana’s law is an appropriate target by any definition, and beyond that, locals everywhere cannot be expected to remain silent as even the least sweeping first steps towards a large, Jim Crow-like zone of sanctioned “private” discrimination are taken. This fight is going to go on for a long time.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.