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As "Religious Freedom" Law Passes, Controversy Heats Up in Indiana

By / Mar 27, 2015 (via the NCAA's Facebook page)

Following in the footsteps of Gen Con, the NCAA—which is hosting the Final Four in Indianapolis next month—has spoken out about a controversial Indiana state law that could allow businesses to deny services to the LGBT community on religious freedom grounds. It comes as outcry to the new law—and other state laws like it—is reaching a crescendo.

In the midst of March Madness, the NCAA is facing a big controversy that threatens to hang a shadow over the association’s biggest sporting event of the year.

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a controversial bill that critics say would allow businesses to discriminate against patrons on religious freedom grounds. Pence, who supported the bill, defended his decision.

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it,” Pence said in a press conference covered by The Indianapolis Star.

Pence signed the bill despite public outcry and suggestions by the organizers of popular events like Gen Con that the new law could affect their future relationship with the state.

On Thursday, the NCAA joined Gen Con in its concerns, with the association’s president, Mark Emmert, emphasizing that the group is “deeply committed” to inclusion efforts.

“We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees,” Emmert said in a news release. “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. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

The issue could threaten the state’s future relationship with the association, as the NCAA’s national office is in Indianapolis.

The National Football League, which also has significant ties to Indiana, has yet to comment on the issue.

An Issue That’s Heating Up

If the NCAA decided, for whatever reason, to curtail its relationship with the state over the issue, it wouldn’t be the first to do so. That honor would go to the B2B company Salesforce.

On Thursday, the company’s CEO, Mark Benioff, announced that Salesforce would cancel all of its programs in the state of Indiana—a significant move, considering that one of its highest profile acquisitions, the email marketing platform ExactTarget, is based in Indianapolis.

“We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation,” Benioff told Re/Code on Thursday.

The city of San Francisco similarly threatened a boycott of Indiana over the law, as has the local business social network Yelp.

Looking beyond Indiana’s borders, similar laws are rising in prominence. Already, 19 other states have these kinds of laws on the books, and other states are considering such bills in the future.

But the backlash in Indiana could be having an impact. On Thursday, “religious liberty” legislation being debated in a Georgia House committee was tabled after language that would protect against “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state, or local law” was added to the bill.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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