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Boone County / Hamilton County / Regional News

Fishers stands against discrimination in response to religious freedom bill

March 30, 2015

In one of the latest dominoes to fall against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the city of Fishers intends to issue a proclamation declaring the community doesn’t discriminate.

In response to the controversial bill that Gov. Mike Pence signed Thursday, Mayor Scott Fadness is making it known that businesses in the northern Indianapolis suburb are open for all.

The religious freedom law prohibits any state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow their religious beliefs and a “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Supporters say it will prevent the government from compelling businesses to provide services like catering for same-sex weddings if they find it objectionable for religious reasons.

Opponents of the bill have argued it allows legal discrimination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The proclamation says the city doesn’t believe any individual should be discriminated against based on sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.

It says the city expects all businesses and citizens to practice equality, tolerance and human dignity.

The state does not include sexual orientation as a protected class, and while Pence defended the law during the weekend, he said it’s not on his agenda to add sexual orientation to the list of characteristics that are illegal to discriminate against.

The Fishers City Council will have a special meeting at 8 a.m. Wednesday for the proclamation.

State lawmakers were discussing possibly clarifying the language of it Monday morning, which Pence said he was open to considering but maintains the law will go into effect July 1.

Backlash has been swift against the law. GenCon CEO threatened to move the annual convention elsewhere, Salesforce.com chief Marc Benioff plans to cease business travel to the state, Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly opposed it, Indianapolis-based Angie’s List Inc. announced it’s putting a $40 million headquarter expansion on hold due to the RFRA.

As for other Hamilton County communities, Fishers may be the only one to make a statement against the law.

Westfield spokeswoman Erin Murphy said Mayor Andy Cook is staying focused on other issues rather than getting involved in this debate. Cook had no comment.

Officials in Noblesville and Carmel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: While specific proclamations aren’t in the works in Carmel or Noblesville, both mayors also made statements against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Noblesville is open for business and welcomes all people regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity,” Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said in a statement. “We work hard to have a warm and welcoming community that people are proud to call home. We foster a culture of acceptance in Noblesville and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act will not change that Noblesville is a great place to live, work and play.”

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he’s heard from several companies that have concerns about meetings scheduled in the state, visitors coming to Carmel and the ability to attract new employees.

“There’s tremendous concern with the business community,” Brainard said.

He said he understands mistakes are made in government, but this needs to be fixed before it further harms economic development.

“This is a ridiculous piece of legislation, and it needs to be changed immediately,” Brainard said.

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