In the wake of Indiana passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), nationwide momentum has swelled for a #BoycottIndiana movement among the left. This hashtag activism seeks to punish the state for enacting legislation similar to laws already passed in nineteen other states that mirror a federal bill that received widespread bipartisan support in 1993.
So, why is it that Indiana has become ground zero for the left’s outrage machine? Why not Texas or Pennsylvania or Connecticut or any other state who has similar legislation? What is it about Indiana passing a RFRA that has made it the perfect place for the left to boycott? Let me suggest five reasons:
First, the Cause: Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott because of the cause. The media narrative would lead you to believe the whole issue with Indiana is about a fundamental cause for liberals—LGBT rights. Even though Indiana’s RFRA contains no language related to gays or lesbians, all you hear about on the national media is that this bill is a “license to discriminate” law that would give anti-gay bigots freedom to discriminate against LGBT people.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Can the left point out any examples in the twenty-plus year history of RFRA litigation where someone was actually able to discriminate against an LGBT person by appealing to RFRA? Instead, this law protects citizens of all faiths from the ability of the government to pave over people’s consciences or coerce them to do things that conflict with their religious convictions, as long as there is not a compelling state interest.
Second, the Context: Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott because of the context. Our country is living in a temporary intermediate state in the battle between religious freedom and LGBT rights. We stand between two Supreme Court rulings—after the Hobby Lobby decision protecting religious freedom but before the same-sex marriage case that will (presumably) nationalize same-sex marriage.
In this context of uncertainty, there is an added sense of motivation to the left’s cause. Because they were blunted by the Hobby Lobby ruling and are buoyed by the expected same-sex marriage decision, they have added incentive to take as much ground in this battle as possible. The situation in Indiana reveals the left’s scorched earth approach to the advance of sexual liberation.
Third, the Flash Point: Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott because of the cultural flash point. With one of the biggest sporting events of the year, the Final Four, set to take place in Indianapolis this weekend, America’s eyes were already turning to the state of Indiana. Because the state was already set to take the nation’s center stage for the Final Four, it elevates the profile of Indiana’s RFRA.
A similar thing happened during Arizona’s 2014 effort to pass RFRA. The flash point at that time was the 2015 Super Bowl, which the NFL threatened to relocate away from Arizona if the controversial legislation was passed. Ultimately, Republican governor Jan Brewer caved to pressure and vetoed the bill. While the Final Four will go on in Indiana unimpeded, it has created a cultural flash point that has drawn attention to Indiana’s efforts.
Fourth, the Villain: Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott because of the villain, Governor Mike Pence. The national media has portrayed Pence as an unflenching, out-of-touch social conservative who is willing to put his own bigoted preferences above the good of the state. Outrage is only sustainable if there is a prominent opposition leader to vilify, and Pence fits the bill for the left.
So far, Pence is unwavering despite the media outcry and local protests. He has stood firm on the legislation, while seeking to educate people about what the bill does and doesn’t say. He has also demonstrated a desire for clarifying language to be added to the bill that would assuage the left’s concerns. But he also says that marking out LGBT people as a protected class is not on his agenda. For the left, his steadfastness in the midst of cultural headwinds makes him an ideal villain to savage.
Fifth, the Cost: Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott because of the cost, or lack thereof, in boycotting the state. An effective boycott could cost the state of Indiana a lot while costing liberals virtually nothing. Indiana is not a bastion of liberalism; instead, it is part of the “fly over” country that many on the left ignore or spurn for its Midwestern values.
When the left boycotts Indiana, it causes the state great pain without negatively impacting the left much at all. If we were dealing with Texas, Pennsylvania, or several of the other states with RFRA, the economic calculus might be different—the left might be more reluctant to boycott because it might actually cost themselves something in the process.
When you look at what liberals are doing in Indiana in light of the cause, the context, the flash point, the villain, and the cost, it becomes clear why Indiana is the perfect place for the left to boycott.
Phillip Bethancourt is the Executive Vice President at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.