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March 31, 2015

Governor Pence’s Empty Defense of Indiana “Religious Freedom” Law

Indiana Governor Mike Pence is receiving national backlash for signing a so-called “religious freedom” law that is causing major corporations to rethink their activities in his state.  The Governor claims there is a “tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding” about the law, which many are calling a license to discriminate. Yet he has repeatedly refused to answer the simple question: does the law legalize discrimination?  He likely won’t, because the honest answer is “yes.”

Michael Pence, Governor of Indiana

Michael Pence, Governor of Indiana

Civil rights organizations do not stand alone in their strong opposition to this law.  In the 5 days since Governor Pence signed Indiana Senate Bill 101 into law, businesses, sports leagues, and local and state governments have voiced their deep concern about the law and threatened action in response.

Two major businesses have already restricted their Indiana operations. announced that it will “dramatically reduce [its] investment” in Indiana, will cancel programs that would require its customers to travel to Indiana, and may even help its employees move out of state.  Angie’s List halted plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis.

The governor of Connecticut, as well as mayors of San Francisco and Seattle recently announced plans to bar publicly-funded travel to Indiana.  Even Indianapolis Mayor Ballard sharply criticized the law. And other major businesses and groups are also expressing concern.  Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook expressed deep disappointment with the new law, and the Indianapolis-based NCAA said the law could lead it to move events outside of the state.

The NBA, WNBA, and NFL also voiced concern.   Just yesterday, CEOs of nine major corporations, including Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, and Indiana University Health, hand delivered a letter to Governor Pence, the Senate President and the Speaker of House stating that they are they are “deeply concerned about the impact [the law] is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state …” and urging them “… to take immediate action to ensure that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will not sanction or encourage discrimination against any residents or visitors to our state by anyone.”

In 2014, the Arizona legislature passed a similar “religious freedom” law.   But under pressure from the civil rights community and businesses such as American Airlines, Google and the NFL, Governor Jan Brewer wisely vetoed the ill-advised legislation.

Governor Pence, however, continues to defend the law and argues it is just like the federal Religious Freedom Act (“RFRA”) and other similar state laws that have been on the books for years.  It’s not.

Although the new Indiana law never mentions sexual orientation or discrimination, it effectively allows all Indiana businesses, except perhaps large, public corporations, the right to discriminate against the LGBT community and others under the cloak of “religious freedom.”  The law does so by providing them with a powerful and virtually insurmountable religious-based defense to any state or local civil or criminal law.

In contrast, the federal RFRA only applies when an actual government entity “substantially burdens” religious exercise and is a party to a subsequent legal proceeding.  Furthermore, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply troubling Hobby Lobby decision, RFRA was understood as only providing protections to individuals and religious institutions – and not for-profit, closed corporations.

So what does this mean in practical terms?  For example, let’s say that a gay couple goes to tuxedo rental store to try on and reserve garments for their wedding.  Based on the new “religious freedom” law, the owner refuses service to the couple, claiming that serving them would “substantially” burden his or her religious beliefs.  At this point, the couple might seek a legal remedy.   Of course, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and take years to resolve, so most denials of service will go unchallenged.

But even if the couple chooses to bring a lawsuit under Indiana law, they would have an uphill fight to meet the relevant legal standard  “strict scrutiny.”   Litigants who must prove this standard usually lose.  Because federal and Indiana state law do not provide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity,  the LGBT community is the most vulnerable to the “religious freedom” law.   But the law also could be raised as a defense to legal actions brought by couples who are denied service because of their religion, ethnicity or national origin.

During the civil rights movement, efforts by businesses to cloak discrimination against African Americans in the guise of “religious freedom” were ultimately defeated because our nation’s true religious freedom protections were never intended to be used as a sword to harm others.  But the new Indiana law does just that by allowing for-profit businesses to use religion as a vehicle to discriminate in the marketplace.   Undoubtedly, as long as it remains on the books, this law will further damage Indiana’s reputation and economy.

With a month left in its 2015 legislative session, the Governor would be wise to push for a repeal of this odious law.

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August 28, 2014

Ferguson = Gaza: Manufacturing A False Comparison


Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge

See also: Ferguson = Gaza: The Continued Invocation Of A False Comparison

As events in Gaza and high profile police brutality cases have continued to dominate recent headlines, a number of groups and individuals have tried to find a connection between these unrelated events in an attempt to bring attention to their activism.

Several anti-Israel groups have couched their hostility towards Israel in social justice terms by linking the conflict in Gaza to the events in Ferguson in an attempt to appeal to a broader base of support. For example:

  • Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine advertised a September 2 event on Facebook: “From Ferguson to Palestine, racism, injustice and human rights violations are being committed against people of color.”
  • The Ohio Palestine Solidarity Group sponsored an August 25 demonstration at Ohio State University’s African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, “to show our love and support for members of our Columbus community who have lost innocent loved ones in Gaza in recent Israeli attacks, to stand in solidarity with Michael Brown, John Crawford, and victims of racism and police brutality all over the US…”
  • At protests in Oakland on August 23, anti-Israel protesters reportedly shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” co-opting the chant used at Ferguson protests
  • An advertisement for an August 22 Indiana Palestine Solidarity event on Facebook read: “The disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life is endemic to the white supremacist system that rules the land. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight daily for the most basic human dignities in our own homeland against the racist Zionist regime that considers us less human.”
  • On August 20, the Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a statement saying, “We recognize those tactics being used in Ferguson and the mentality behind them…the methods of unbri dled violence and control being used by security forces are all too familiar to Palestinians living under Israel’s decade-old occupation.”
  • On August 20, protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go.” At least one protester held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”
  • In an August 20 press release, Jewish Voice for Peace stated, “We recognize that the devaluing of African-American lives built into the fabric of US government and society is mirrored in Israel’s unequal treatment of Palestinians…It’s also not surprising to see the similarity in the tactics and technologies of repression against those who are rising up nonviolently in both places.”

Protest in Staten Island

While some are simply trying to rouse support for an anti-Israel agenda by attracting like-minded activists, others have gone so far as to imply that Israel is to blame for the violence in Ferguson.

This allegation surfaced in a tweet by Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). On August 14, Parsi tweeted, “Wondering why the excessive police violence? Here’s a guess: #Ferguson police chief got training in Israel…#Gaza.” An August 15 article from San Francisco Bay View titled “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of Black youth” echoed this sentiment.

Similar comparisons have appeared at protests regarding other high profile police brutality cases, such as at an August 23 rally calling for justice in the death of Eric Garner, who was unarmed when killed by an NYPD officer earlier this summer. Among the posters seen at the protest were “Google It!!! Israel trains the NYPD.”

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December 6, 2013

In First Appearance After Heart Attack, Farrakhan Continues Anti-Semitism

Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan’s first public appearance after suffering a heart attack featured a number of anti-Semitic claims about Jewish control over the American government, Black organizations and other sectors.farrakhan-indiana-heart-attack

During his December 1 speech at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Farrakhan revealed he was hospitalized approximately two months ago due to a heart attack. When Farrakhan was unable to deliver his 2013 Holy Day of Atonement speech in Alabama in October, the NOI originally said he was hospitalized for “an infection.”

In his speech, Farrakhan bluntly stated his theory about who controls the U.S. government: “…we’re gonna bring you up to speed. The American government is under control of the Zionists.” Farrakhan went on to claim that the Jewish community has power over the NOI and other Black organizations. “It’s not that I’m against the Jewish people. That’s just false…They have such power and influence that they made most of you believe that I’m against the Jewish people.”

He made similar claims about the NAACP, stating “You members of the NAACP, you want to put on a march to Washington but you don’t have no money, so who do you go to? You go to philanthropists, many of them are Jewish.” He continued, “They tell you who you can have speaking. And they told you don’t have Farrakhan. And you couldn’t say a damn thing because it wasn’t your money it was theirs.”

Farrakhan also described sending a copy of the NOI’s anti-Semitic book, The Secret Rela­tion­ship between Blacks and Jews, which alleges dis­pro­por­tion­ate Jew­ish involve­ment in the slave trade, to the “presidents of all the major Jewish organizations” as well as some Jewish public officials. This is not the first time Farrakhan has done so. The letter stated that the purpose of sending the book was to appeal to Jews who are “sitting on top of the world in power with riches and influence while the masses of my people…are in the worst condition of any member of the human family” to convince them to repair the “damage that has been done by your ancestors to mine.”

The crowd applauded as Farrakhan read the last line of the letter which claimed that if the Jews do not “make the wise and best choice,” that God “will bring you and your people to disgrace and ruin and destroy your power and influence here in America and throughout the world.”

Also in the sermon, Farrakhan compared the Jews of today to those of Jesus’ time, claiming both had disproportionate influence over the government. “Did you know the Jesus had a real problem with the Jewish community? They had power, the rabbis of that day, over the Roman authorities just as they have power today over our government,” he alleged.noi-rg-9-11-israel-tweet

Farrakhan’s blatantly anti-Semitic public statements are just one part of the NOI’s larger anti-Jewish propaganda campaign. The NOI Research Group (NOIRG), which created a website in 2012 that pro­motes vir­u­lently anti-Semitic con­spir­acy theories, tweeted and posted on Facebook a number of times that Israel was behind 9/11, including most recently (December 3) posting that “#Israel has an ugly history of deadly false flag operations, including 9/11….”

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