Gov. Pence signs the Religious Freedom law on Thursday in a private ceremony. the administration released photos of the event, but refused to identify who attended.
Gov. Pence signs the Religious Freedom law on Thursday in a private ceremony. the administration released photos of the event, but refused to identify who attended.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS - In the wake of Gov. Mike Pence’s signing the Religious Freedom law on Thursday, the reaction across Indiana and nationally for a state obsessed with an image as an “open for business” jobs creator has been nothing less than disastrous.

Look no further than the business magazine Forbes which featured a headline on its homepage: “Salesforces.com makes a stand against bigotry.” Beyond the headline, CEO Scott McCorkle explained, “Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity or sexual orientation." More potentially devastating, McCorkle called on the rest of the tech industry to take a stand against the Indiana government's decision.

Just blocks west of the Indiana Statehouse, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the organization that was a huge economic development prize when it relocated to Indianapolis would reassess future Indianapolis events as well as whether it could conduct business here. "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,” Emmert said. "Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

And across Indiana, headlines featured dozens of business leaders questioning the law and its impact. “Local business leaders stick it to religious freedom law” was the headline in the Lafayette Journal & Courier. In the Muncie Star Press, the headline read “Frustration surrounds ‘religious freedom’ law.” That article quoted Ball State University conservative economist and columnist Michael Hicks saying, “This is much smoke for little fire, though it does little to counter the misperception that Indiana is a backwoods, provincial place.” The NWI Times’ lead noted that “critics in Northwest Indiana and across the nation claim is a license to discriminate.” The Chicago Tribune’s headline was “Businesses fear costly backlash from Indiana's religious freedom law.”

The bill was signed by Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday in a private ceremony that drew considerable criticism, with the administration later releasing photos, but refused to identify who was in attendance. The reaction has Gov. Pence and legislative Republicans on their heels. "There has been a lot of misunderstanding about this bill," Pence said. "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it." State Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, who voted for the bill, told the Journal & Courier, "I feel horrible that the constituents that I serve would think for a second that I would vote on a bill that would discriminate against them based on sexual orientation ... because it doesn't deal with sexual orientation, it deals strictly with religious freedom. For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.""

The problem for Pence, who is expected to stand for reelection in 2016 after a narrow victory in 2012 with just 49% of the vote, is that perception can become reality. And any crisis management expert will observe that if such a law is so misunderstood, then it was either crafted poorly or there has been a lack of creating the proper political atmosphere of support. Legislators HPI has talked with express dismay over the reaction.

Multiple sources are telling Howey Politics Indiana that the Indiana Republican State Central Committee is in near rebellion, fearing that the religious freedom law, the legislative and administration assaults on Democrat State Supt. Glenda Ritz, and an effort to repeal the common wage law will carry a severe backlash in 2016. “At some point when you keep carving away constituencies with these wedge issues, it’s going to impact your ability to win elections,” one member told HPI on background. Several southern Indiana Republican county chairs, speaking on background, have expressed similar sentiments.

GenCon and the Disciples of Christ are threatening to pull their conventions in Indianapolis, with GenCon attacking some 56,000 attendees in recent years. It prompted the Indianapolis Star to report “Indy looks to limit ‘religious freedom’ damage.” San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee announced that he is banning all city-funded trips to Indiana. "We stand united as San Franciscans to condemn Indiana's new discriminatory law, and will work together to protect the civil rights of all Americans including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals," Lee said in a statement. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.”  St. Joseph County Democrats vowed to launch boycotts of local businesses which “discriminate.”

Celebrities ranging from singer Miley Cyrus to actress Audra McDonald to Star Trek hero George Takei, who said, “(Gov. Pence) has made it clear that LGBT couples, like Brad and me, are now unwelcome in his state. The notion that this bill was not driven by animus against our community is belied by the record and frankly insulting."

When President Bill Clinton signed the federal law in `997, and many of the 19 states which did so pass, but many of these laws were passed in the days before public opinion began to dramatically shift away from opposition to gay marriage. As what usually happens, the culture evolves with the political establishment lagging way behind as politicians cling to original issue stances that appeal to core constituencies. Pence is a hero to many social conservatives. The problem is that many voters beyond those who vote in Republican primaries have shifted their views.

In 2014, Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer refused to sign a similar law after she received intense pressure from business and industry as well as the National Football League.