Monday, March 30, 2015

The PC: Our bedfellows are becoming stranger with each passing legislative session.

The PC: Our bedfellows are becoming stranger with each passing legislative session. 

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

You won’t need to look far amid my scribblings to locate frequent praise for the Indiana “craft” brewing scene. I’m proud of my state when it comes to better beer.

In five years since 2010, we’ve come close to tripling the number of Hoosier breweries, and while it seems a new establishment opens in Indianapolis every week, smaller communities from Aurora to Martinsville to Needmore are being represented, too. It’s overdue, and welcomed.

This Wednesday, I’ll make the drive up I-65 to Indianapolis for a regular board meeting of the Brewers of Indiana Guild (BIG). It isn’t an ordinary week in the state capital. For one, college basketball’s Final Four will be staged there beginning on Saturday, with all attendant sports-driven hoopla. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that just last week, my state made international headlines with a controversial new law, overwhelmingly approved by both legislative bodies and promptly signed by Governor Mike Pence. Because of SB/HB 101, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), there are mounting calls to boycott Indiana.

Some, including Keith Olbermann, Charles Barkley and Dave Zirin, have gone so far as to urge the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, to move the Final Four elsewhere in protest. This is unlikely, but the NCAA has indicated its displeasure, meaning Indiana might be denied future athletic spectacles. That’s bad for all our bottom lines, beer or not.


This is nothing more than a beer column, and it would be impossible to include a detailed explication of the issues surrounding the RFRA firestorm. Quoted below is a letter written in February by 30 legal scholars to Rep. Ed DeLaney of the Indiana House of Representatives, but before lifting a key passage, first permit me to state clearly that speaking personally, not as a BIG board member, a brewery owner, a militant atheist or a serial admirer of Noel Gallagher, but as a simple human being, I strongly oppose RFRA, and I am utterly revolted by what it stands for.

It is bad law, a regrettable over-reach (the GOP enjoys a super majority in Indiana state government), a human rights disaster, and a body blow to the state's business climate -- all of these being purely negative aspects, and yet the saddest part of it might be the grubby, small-minded pettiness of the politics involved, and how, with a stroke of his gilded crayon, Pence has deposited this bundle of divisive bile at all our front doors, to foul all our communities.

The scholars say:

In our expert opinion, the clear evidence suggests otherwise and unmistakably demonstrates that the broad language of the proposed state RFRA will more likely create confusion, conflict, and a wave of litigation that will threaten the clarity of religious liberty rights in Indiana while undermining the state’s ability to enforce other compelling interests. This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so. Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or a police officer’s private religious beliefs. As we have learned on the federal level, RFRAs do not “open a door” to conversation, but rather invite new conflict that takes the form of litigation. This collision of public rights and individual religious beliefs will produce a flood of litigation, whereby Indiana courts will be asked to rebalance what has been a workable and respectful harmony of rights and responsibilities in a pluralistic society.

In layman’s terms, the RFRA likely will facilitate discrimination, especially against the LGBT community, and precisely from those unreconstructed bigots in the retail and service sector of the economy who stand to create the greatest visibility for their prejudices.

That’s bad for all of us in Indiana, beer or otherwise.


As a leftist of long standing, a supreme irony of my tenure as a director on the Brewers of Indiana Guild board is that much of the success of our legislative lobbying effort in recent years, from Sunday carry-out growler sales to artisan distilling, can be attributed to Republican support in the legislature. After all, Democrats barely exist any longer.

What this means is that often I must excuse myself, visit the nearest restroom, splash cold water on my face, look into the mirror, remind myself that I’m an adult capable of being a pragmatist and embracing the art of compromise – then rejoin the meeting at hand and keep my big mouth shut.

Later, back home, there’ll be time for a shower. Or six.

All of Indiana’s Republican senators voted in favor of RFRA. All but five of my state’s Republican representatives did the same, although among this group was Rep. Ed Clere, from my New Albany district, who also broke from the GOP during last year’s ugly same-sex marriage votes. I thank him.

Clere has been a solid friend to Indiana breweries during his time in the House, and so have several other Republican representatives and senators, although unlike Clere, they all voted in favor of a bill that now, even as I write, is producing a backlash that runs entirely counter to BIG’s stated mission to grow and nurture Indiana beer.

In fact, RFRA is managing to unite folks all across the country – against my state.

We’re being looked upon as a ludicrous banana republic (at best) or an embryonic one-party fascist state (at worst), and either way, we’ve become a target for derision and economic sanctions not unlike those imposed on South Africa during apartheid.

Except those sanctions were a good idea, but damn it, these – they’re directed against me and mine! Thanks, Pence.

Intellectually, I completely understand the impulse to boycott Indiana, and indeed, I am hard-pressed to dispute the rationale, even though I’ve spent my entire adult life, something like 35 years, differing loudly and publicly from the right-wing political and religious ideology spurring abominations like RFRA.

Consequently, is this what it felt like during the run-up to the American Civil War, to be a Unionist isolated in East Tennessee … or a Copperhead in Central Indiana?

Even then we had issues. Splash some more water, maybe have a beer. Deep breaths all around.


So ... there’s a BIG board meeting on Wednesday, and it should be interesting to see what happens. Will we adapt a public position against RFRA? I believe we should. At the barest of minimums, a positive statement should be issued, stressing that Indiana breweries serve everyone – of course, so long as you’re 21 years old and not intoxicated.

I believe we should commend Rep. Clere, while letting our other purported “friends” in the legislature know, in no uncertain terms, that when it comes to a “substantial burden” in the voguish parlance of this bill’s language, we’re the actual businesses who’ll be feeling that substantive weight. Now, in addition to the chore of convincing drinkers to give Indiana beer a try, we also have to persuade them NOT to boycott our products. Thanks again, Pence.

Speaking for myself, I don’t feel like backing down and accepting bigotry and intolerance. I’ve lived in Indiana my whole life, and it’s my state, too. I’ll do what I can, and keep you posted.

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