by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
You know what the big takeaway was from this week’s past controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?
No, it wasn’t the adage “it’s not what it is, it’s what it looks like.” Nor was it “be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” No, the big lesson from this week’s RFRA controversy was that “money talks and b********* walks.” (My uncle taught me that.)
To translate that into something less urban that basically means that when you want to get somebody’s attention, start messing with their money. Or to put it in a more positive light, capitalism can be the cure for what ails us.
There were examples of this all over Indianapolis: Gen Con, Angie’s List, SalesForce, the NCAA; a lot of big names were expressing their concerns over what they thought the potential discriminatory impact of RFRA could be. I know, this is where you say RFRA didn’t allow for discrimination. RFRA, or laws similar to it were already on the books, RFRA was signed into law by Bill Clinton in the mid 1990s. Barack Obama voted for similar version of RFRA when he was in the Illinois legislature. Yes, all that is true and this is where I remind you of my first adage. Enough people made enough noise about what they would do with their money if something wasn’t done about RFRA. Lawmakers heard the message loud and clear and started down the road of fixing the problem.
And the problem was getting bad and Indiana was on the verge of the beginning of a major economic meltdown. And this was a meltdown everyone would have felt. It wasn’t just my friend who was a downtown nightclub owner who lost a $10,000 event because of the RFRA controversy, luckily the folks changed their minds after lawmakers changed the bill. But it was also Moody’s credit agency sounding the alarm. The agency called the reaction to the law a “negative credit development” for the city and the state; saying in its credit outlook report that there was “increased risk to its hospitality-related revenues” due to a possible downturn in tourism and convention business.” And keep this in mind, the Indianapolis convention business generates about $4.4 billion for the state. The taxes from those dollars help pay for schools and other services. And a lot of those schools and services are not in Indianapolis, but in Richmond, Warsaw, Charlestown, Greenwood, just to name a few.
And it wasn’t just the RFRA opponents who took advantage of capitalism. Remember the story about the pizza place in Walkerton, IN whose owner said they would not cater a gay wedding because it violated their religious beliefs. (Granted I don’t know any self-respecting couple, gay or straight that would do that, but I digress). Well a bunch of people got mad and did really stupid, reprehensible stuff (to put it mildly) and the owners had to close the place down. Then a bunch of people got mad at the bunch of people who got mad at the pizzeria and started a GoFund Me campaign, and as I write this column, they’ve raised at least $800,000 for the owners. Once again folks, the magic of capitalism.
Now does this mean we can scrape all anti-discrimination laws, of course not. And I don’t have a problem adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code. But if there’s one thing this experience should have taught us, you can talk crazy all you want, but when you start, as my Uncle used to say, “messing with other folks’ money, it’s about to get deep and it’s about to get real.”
And it got real.
Abdul-Hakim is the editor and publisher of Indy Politics. Feel free to tell him he is off his rocker by e-mailing him at email@example.com.