Indiana lawmakers are hastening to draft and pass language this week that will "clarify" the state's newly passed religious freedom law after enormous public outcry
. But some pundits point out that the gaping holes left by the law will result in a slew of unintended consequences that might not be that easy to fix.
On Friday, the same day Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Church of Cannabis sought and received approval from Indiana's secretary of state to operate as a church. Under the new law, members of the church may be able to smoke marijuana as part of its religious belief system, according to Indiana lawyer and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, who first called attention
to the marijuana church's move last week.
Shabazz told VICE News today that Indiana's new law could protect many types of behavior under the guise of religious freedom, including Native American tribes smoking peyote and Muslim prisoners being allowed to grow beards.
"It got me thinking, a lot of religions use marijuana in rituals — the Rastafarians, the Zion Coptic Church of Ethiopia — so then I did some research online and under RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in the state of Indiana. It pretty much says that before the government can infringe on your religious liberty, it has to offer up a good argument," Shabazz said. "So now, when you arrest someone for pot possession, he can claim he's a Rastafarian and those are his religious beliefs.
"It's not a comment on RFRA, it's just pointing out that you can't say you only get religious freedom for your sake or your population, when other people can take advantage of this too," Shabazz said. "It opens up a lot of questions and issues I don't think my friends at the State House fully understand."
The law's unintended consequences may be a surprise to Pence and other legislators, who seemed surprised over the weekend at the blowback they were receiving from businesses and the public across the nation over the law.
"I just can't account for the hostility that's been directed at our state," Pence told theIndianapolis Star.
"I've been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill."
Related: Indiana Governor Under Fire for Creating State-Sponsored 'News Outlet'
Indiana Senate President David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma held a press conference first thing Monday morning to say they would "encourage our colleagues to adopt a clarifying measure of some sort to remove this misconception about the bill."
In addition to loopholes like the potential legality of smoking marijuana, lawmakers were met with a flood of economic consequences. The CEOs of multiple companies, including Apple and Salesforce, have condemned the law, with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announcing the company was stopping all business travel to Indiana. The consumer ratings site Angie's List, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, immediately halted its plans to build a new headquarters in the city.
"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future," said Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle in a statement.
Related: Petition to Move NCAA Out of Indiana Over 'Religious Freedom' Law Gaining Momentum
Sports organizations, including the NCAA and the NFL, are being called on to take their business out of Indiana following the law's passage. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and hosting the men's college basketball Final Four Tournament there this weekend, said it was concerned about the legislation. More than 59,000 fans signed a petition asking the NCAA to move out of the state, while former professional players including Jason Collins and Charles Barkley said the league should think twice about hosting the event in a state with legal discrimination.
A slew of other repercussions emerged over the weekend as well: openly gay actor George Takei called for a boycott of Indiana on Twitter and suggested the gaming convention Gen Con could leave the state, the cities of Seattle and San Francisco have banned city employees from traveling to Indiana on taxpayer funds, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said today that he's implementing a travel ban.
"Because of Indiana's new law, later today I will sign an executive order regarding state-funded travel," Malloy tweeted.
Sheila Kennedy, a longtime political commentator in Indiana politics and current professor of law and policy at Indiana University, said that the state's lawmakers were clearly not anticipating any of the consequences they are now faced with over the law intended to appeal to conservative Christians.
"The people at the State House thought, 'we'll pass this meaningless bill,' but didn't anticipate the blowback," she told VICE News.
Since Indiana has no anti-discrimination bill on its books to protect gays and lesbians anyway, the new bill protecting the right to discriminate is unnecessary, she said. The politics surrounding the bill are actually about getting even for 2014's gay marriage ruling, she said.
"There was a group of angry Christian conservatives who were used to getting their way and they were badly beaten in the fight over gay marriage. They're still smarting over that. So this was sort of a way to stick their thumb in the eye of the gay community," Kennedy said.
"Pence is stuck between rock and hard place," she said. "His base is the extreme, religious right, so he can't afford to back off now. But everybody else, including the business wing of the Republican Party, is."
Pence and other lawmakers said they will try to clarify the law this week, but they will not repeal it.
Do you remember back when Chick-fil-A's very godly and conservative CEO defended the chain's big donations to anti-marriage-equality groups by declaring that same-sex marriage was "inviting God's judgment" on America?
In the halls of Congress, it has turned Chick-fil-A into the official Republican junk food
Since [CEO Dan Cathy] made his controversial comments, House Republicans have spent nearly $13,000 in taxpayer money ordering Chick-fil-A, according to expenditure reports filed through July 2014 (the latest available). That's the equivalent of 3,900 original chicken sandwiches, and it represents a 37-fold increase over the paltry $345 the House GOP had spent on Chick-fil-A the previous three years. (It also may be an undercount, since some receipts say only "food and beverage" without specifying a source.) Figures for the Senate were not available, but the GOP's campaign arms have been eating "mor chikin" as well: The Republican National Committee has doubled its Chick-fil-A spending, while the National Republican Congressional Committee spends more than 10 times as much as it used to.
Those poor staffers. First it was Freedom Fries, now this.
The Supreme Court. This one's good!
Use this link to watch the President's address and read more about the history of that day:
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa)State of the State Response – as PreparedMarch 3, 2015
On the road to his first election, Republican Governor Rick Scott promised Floridians that under his 7-step economic plan, “total job growth will accelerate, the number of new business start-ups will increase, wages and salaries will grow, and the productivity and vitality of Florida’s economy will soar.”
Well, this past January, as Governor Scott returned for a second term, the jury came in about all those promises. And the verdict was grim: Florida is taking the lead in the race to the bottom, in large part because all those new jobs Governor Scott has been busy creating are mostly minimum wage. And it’s not working.Just ask Adhanet Kidane, a 30 year old single mom in Tampa, who works two minimum wage jobs at fast-food restaurants.
Sadly, the road to today’s state of the state came at your expense. The ones who prospered before, during, and after the Great Recession never lost their tax breaks, rarely made good on their commitment to create all those high paying jobs, and continued to sock away profits in offshore accounts protected by powerful financial institutions.
The middle class has been sinking while the lifeboats sailed off with the well off and the well connected.
And they have yet to return for your rescue.
Today, while many Floridians see signs of an economy starting to improve, they’re still waiting for the improvements to reach them
. Jobs that used to be the first step for teens earning money are now the final steps for adults trying to support themselves and their families. And Florida is no closer to putting hard working people within reach of a family doctor than they were when the national health care law first offered them a fleeting hope of affordable insurance.
Because in the deepening disconnect between this governor and the people, the one glaring gap in all the glowing rhetoric about getting to work, removing government interference, and promises of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” is this: giving the people a fighting chance. Like 45-year old Winter Park resident Alvin Joyner, a single dad raising two young boys who puts in 45-hours a week and is barely scraping by on just under $24,000 a year. An assistant manager, Mr. Joyner is pinning his hopes on his faith and a future promotion to earn a better life for his small family. So far, only his faith has come through.
Unfortunately, Governor Scott just doesn’t get it. But I believe you do.
Any Floridian stuck in a low wage job in a state flush with low wage jobs, gets it. Any homeowner struggling to hold onto their homes when banks get to ignore the rules, gets it. Any student facing crushing debt to get an education, gets it. Anyone stuck in an expensive emergency room because a governor is at war with the president’s health care law, gets it. Anyone paying high property insurance premiums for minimum insurance coverage, gets it. And anyone trying to start a small business but can’t get any help because Tallahassee is too busy helping big corporations – gets it.
Governor Scott’s economic policies are still catering to Wall Street, while Main Street is left to fend for itself. Assuring us that all those minimum wage jobs help “families put food on the table, pay the rent and buy a car,” is easy from the luxury of his private jet; but at ground level it’s an insult when the harder you work, the further you fall behind.
That’s why we need to turn this ship around.
This session, Senate Democrats are sponsoring legislation that promises real help for real people and real small businesses. After all, you work hard for the money you send to Tallahassee. At the end of the day, shouldn’t you have something to show for it too?
Our bills are designed to finally give Floridians a fighting chance to climb into the middle class, and the middle class a ladder to climb higher. Our plan is to build a new economy by investing in clean technology that will launch an industry manufacturing products proudly stamped “Made in the USA.” That’s why we’re pushing to help businesses like those developing solar energy, freeing us from the stranglehold of traditional fuel. And we want to eliminate cumbersome taxes on vehicles powered by alternative fuel so that more people can buy them.
The Senate Democrats’ mission also includes a fighting chance for those too often forgotten. From raising the minimum wage to bringing Floridians’ federal tax dollars home so that our money covers health care for our
people, instead of other states’ – these are the basics any democratic society needs to flourish, and we will raise our voices on their behalf.
As many of you know, Florida is home to a large group of military veterans who have fought valiantly to defend the freedoms we cherish. This legislature has passed bill after bill to help these warriors upon their return home – everything from housing assistance to lowered tuition. But little of that matters if the jobs aren’t there, if the only fighting chance they have to put those skills or that education to work is no chance at all. Little of the housing help matters if they can’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. And none of that matters if the freedom they defended overseas eludes them on their own home soil because - without a fighting chance – there is no hope, and you are not free.
So as you look around you, as you gather around the kitchen table with your families, as you tuck your children into bed at night, ask yourselves: is this the best we can do? After all the belt tightening, the sacrifices, and the hard work – is this the reward? Is this all we can hope for? For ourselves? Our children? Our state?
And if the answer is “no” and you, too, like so many other Floridians – like Adhanet and Alvin -
are ready for that fighting chance, then stand with us. Let’s demand the same opportunities from this governor he likes to give to just a select few. And let’s rise together.
Florida Senate Democratic Office
The victims, a man and a woman, were first tied to a tree.
Their fingers were hacked off and given out as souvenirs. Next their ears were chopped from their heads. A mob beat the man while a crowd of hundreds watched.
A large corkscrew was then used to mutilate both captives, who were tossed onto a fire and burned. While all this was happening, the onlookers — which included women and children — were served lemonade and deviled eggs.
This isn’t a scene from the latest ISIS video in Syria. It’s a homegrown American atrocity that took place in 1904 in Doddsville, Miss.
A black man named Luther Holbert and a woman thought to be his wife were snatched by a lynch mob on suspicion of killing a white landowner. No prosecution, no trial, no finding of guilt.
The deaths were two of 3,959 “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. The Alabama-based legal-rights group spent five years researching such murders, and how they were used to terrify African-American communities.
As horrified as we are by the beheadings aired by thugs of the Islamic State, the barbaric spectacles that for decades took place in town squares and public parks across the Deep South were no less monstrous.
Racial lynchings often were staged in a festive carnival atmosphere with large crowds. Sometimes enterprising printers peddled postcards featuring photos of the mangled dead body.
A white mob in Dyersburg, Tenn., took a hot poker iron to a black man named Lation Scott. They carved out his eyes before ramming the poker down his throat, castrating him and “burning him alive over a slow fire.”
This part of our past is so despicable that it remains uncommemorated — and seldom mentioned — in many of the places where it occurred. The EJI study, released Feb. 10, focused on lynchings that weren’t the result of any criminal trial or procedure. It found that Phillips County, Ark., led the South with 243. Four parishes in Louisiana were next with a combined 179 lynchings during the 70-plus years that were reviewed.
Florida had 331 known “terror” lynchings, several counties being among the worst in the nation. Near the top of that list was Orange County, now home to Disney World.
Other counties that racked up double-digit numbers of lynchings were Polk, Columbia, Taylor, Marion and Alachua, better known these days as the site of the University of Florida.
Lynching spiked throughout the South in the years following the Civil War, as whites desperately fought to maintain domination and keep African-American neighborhoods in fear. The U.S. government did nothing to stop the terror; incredibly, Congress refused to pass a law to ban lynching.
From the EJI report: “Not a single white person was convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during this period, and of all lynchings committed after 1900, only 1 percent resulted in a lyncher being convicted of a criminal offense.”
Defenders of the practice claimed mob action was necessary to suppress a trend of black men raping white women. Such myth-mongering became a license to murder.
Some of the cases reported by EJI:
■ In 1904, a black man in Reevesville, S.C., was lynched for knocking on the door of a white woman’s house.
■▪In 1916, a black man named Jeff Brown was lynched for accidentally bumping into a white girl while he was running to catch a train in Cedarbluff, Miss.
■ In 1919, a black soldier named William Little returned from World War I to his home in Blakely, Ga. He was lynched after refusing to take off his Army uniform.
■ And in 1940, in Luverne, Ala. a black man named Jesse Thornton was lynched because he didn’t use the word “mister” when speaking about a white police officer. Such killings usually were set in a public place and, like the gruesome ISIS murders, were designed to shock and intimidate.
If the Internet had existed back then, every lynching would have been streamed live.
The world was sickened by the recent video of a Jordanian pilot being doused with gas and set afire, but here’s a headline bannered in a Southern newspaper less than a century ago: “3,000 WILL BURN NEGRO.”
And they did. The Mississippi governor said he was “powerless to prevent it.”
Such ghastly Gothic pageants are no longer tolerated in this country, proving that a culture of hate and raw cruelty can evolve into something better.
Yet as we cringe at the hideous acts of terror being committed elsewhere today, it’s as essential as it is painful to remember what we ourselves were once capable of.