Indiana passed a law that allows businesses to refuse service based on religious convictions, prompting boycotts of the state's goods and other backlash. Problem is, Indianapolis is one of the motorsport capitals of the world. IndyCar and NASCAR both just said that they want no part of this new "freedom" to discriminate.
Freedom! It's a funny word, that. When your so-called "freedom" infringes on someone else's basic human right to be treated as an equal, it's not really a freedom, is it? Nor is it all that biblical, if you're trying to argue the religious side of it. Re-read that "do unto others" part and see how you'd like it if someone refused to work on your car based on some religious conviction that you don't share with a business owner.
There is a huge backlash against the vagaries of the new law, and many in Indianapolis are the biggest voices against it. Indianapolis in particular has much at stake. The state capital is the biggest tourism draw in the whole state, and if much of the rest of the country is giving your state the stink-eye over a piece of legislation, you've got a huge problem. The Indianapolis Star released a particularly scathing front-page editorial explaining why it's awful yesterday, imploring the state to fix the law by introducing protections for LGBT individuals.
While gays and lesbians are not specifically called out in the language of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it's obvious that equal access to businesses and services by LGBT residents and visitors is at the heart of the matter given the debate around the law's wording. The extension of the RFRA to include for-profit entities is the biggest point of contention. As worded, businesses would be allowed to deny service to an individual on religious grounds. As it stands now, those religious grounds can include an objection to homosexuality. Things like race and gender are protected by law, however, sexual orientation is not.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has perhaps the most to lose in the war over Indiana's public perception. Their biggest event of the year, the Indianapolis 500, is next month. The speedway also hosts other series, amateur events (which tend to be huge because it's the home of the Indy 500), concerts and other activities throughout the year. They released this statement from IMS President Doug Boles on their Facebook page yesterday:
For 105 years the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has engaged millions who want to celebrate the true spirit of American racing. IMS will continue to warmly welcome all who share our enthusiasm for motorsports – employees, participants and fans.
IMS also changed their huge pylon outside to reflect their stance on the issue:
Boles clarified that this wasn't just the speedway's opinion to Queers4Gears. "I can also confirm that this is the position of all Hulman & Company organizations, including INDYCAR. We welcome everyone."
Obviously, the speedway isn't the only one who would be affected by low turnouts or a politically-motivated statewide boycott. Race shops that keep the cars running, groups that host races and events in the state, and teams in the series that run in Indiana will all take a hit. Local businesses that get a boost from race attendees, too, are among those affected. All of these entities have every right to clarify that the exclusionary attitude Indiana's government OK'd by signing off on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn't fit with the world of motorsports. At all.
IMS released this statement shortly after NASCAR spoke out against the new Indiana law yesterday. NASCAR, too, runs at IMS. NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes was a bit more blunt in the series' denouncement of Indiana's newly passed law yesterday:
NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.
NASCAR, for better or for worse, has a good ol' boy image—even more so than nearly every other series in existence. Indiana's law could be particularly problematic for a series looking to prove that it has open doors beyond its core following, so I can see why NASCAR had harsher words to say on the new act.
As for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself, the Indianapolis Star reports that lawmakers are meeting with business and sport leaders to fix the issues with the legislation. IMS CEO Mark Miles and Indianapolis Chamber Vice President Mark Fisher are among those in attendance.
"The measure being discussed would specify that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation," reports the Indianapolis Star. Several lawmakers have stated that they would not support a repeal or any measure to make gays and lesbians a protected class of citizens, so this proposed measure serves as a compromise. Churches and nonprofit religious organizations would be exempt from the additional measure.
Clearly, hosting a race in a state where it's legally okay to refuse to rent rooms to couples that don't fit the hotel owner's worldview is a very big problem. It's one that Indiana needs to fix right away, not just for the sake of some of its biggest industries, but for the sake of common decency.
Perhaps Team RLL co-owner David Letterman said it best on last night's episode of The Late Show: "This is not the Indiana I remember as a kid. I lived there for twenty-seven years, and folks were folks, that's all there was to it."
Indiana needs to ensure that the state remains as welcoming as most of its populace is by closing one potentially nasty legal loophole.