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Indiana's new religious freedom law sparks outrage

Several businesses and organizations were quick to condemn Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign a controversial religious freedom bill into law Thursday.

Several businesses and organizations responsible for pumping millions of dollars into Indiana’s economy were quick to condemn Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign a controversial religious freedom bill into law Thursday, bolstering opponents’ warnings that the measure would ultimately damage the Hoosier’s State’s reputation and economy.

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Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), quietly became law Thursday during a private, closed-press signing ceremony. Modeled off of the federal RFRA, which gained notoriety in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling of last year, the new law will prohibit a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it’s relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest.

Supporters say the RFRA is designed to protect people’s religious beliefs from unnecessary government intrusion. But opponents argue the measure serves as a license to discriminate, particularly against LGBT people, on religious grounds.

In the past week, a wide array of opponents put pressure on Pence to veto the measure, including citizens, celebrities, tech leaders and convention customers. Now that SB 101 is law, that criticism doesn’t look to be dying down.

Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said in a statement Thursday that the Indianapolis-based NCAA was “especially concerned” about how the legislation would affect student athletes and employees.

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“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,” the statement read. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

Emmert’s statement should concern Pence -- not only because Indianapolis is set to host next month’s Division 1 Men’s Championship, but also because the NCAA could decide to move several big money events set to take place in the Hoosier State over the next year. Those include the 2015 Big Ten Football Championship Game, scheduled for Dec. 5, the 2016 Women’s Final Four, scheduled for April of next year, and the 2016 Olympic Trials for diving. All three events are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.

With less than 10 days to go before the Men’s Final Four, it would be impossible for the NCAA to relocate the championship over concerns about the new law. However, the events scheduled further in the future could be in jeopardy.

Business leaders, too, spoke out against Pence’s decision to sign the RFRA Thursday. Max Levchin, cofounder of PayPal, CEO of Affirm and chairman of Yelp, tweeted that the new law was “unbelievable.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff similarly took to Twitter with his reaction:

In an email to msnbc, Pence’s spokesperson said that the governor had reached out personally to Benioff Thursday afternoon to discuss the tech leader’s concerns. But as reactions continued to pour in -- more bad than good -- it appeared likely that Pence would have to have many more such conversations.

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“In our eyes, the law is entirely unnecessary,” said Kevin Brinegar, CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “The reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention.”

Another potential downside to the law’s passage is lost revenue from conventions. In a Facebook post, the group Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wrote that it was “sort[ing] through the contracts, costs, and decisions around the 2017 General Assembly,” set to take place in Indianapolis. That event is expected to generate nearly $6 million, according to Visit Indy, an organization that directs tourism to Indianapolis. Slightly better news came from Adrian Swartout, CEO and owner of Gen Con LLC, who said in a letter that he would honor Gen Con’s contract to hold its annual gaming convention in Indianapolis through 2020. However, he left open the possibility of moving the multi-million dollar convention elsewhere “in 2021 and beyond.”

“The message this legislation sends to tourists, Indy locals, and the overall business community is one of exclusion,” Swartout said.