Labor Leaders Slam Gay Indiana Law

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Labor unions Monday condemned Indiana lawmakers for passing a law which they say allows businesses to discriminate against homosexuals.

“Laws permitting discrimination and intolerance in any form or fashion have no place in America today,” J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, declared in a statement.

Despite the negative backlash to the new law, similar measures have passed in 20 states and on the federal level. Additionally, the Indiana law does not makes any reference to gay people.

“I join with the legions of people from all walks of life who are voicing their outrage at this discriminatory law and urge Indiana lawmakers to repeal this despicable action at once,” he added.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law last week by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Supporters argue the law is meant to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law.

“This past week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that legalizes discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers simply because they are gay or lesbian,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders detailed.

“Further, since Governor Pence claims disingenuously that it is about religious freedom, his law protects any business owner who refuses to hire someone of a different religion from their own,” he continued. “This un-American law sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated.”

“The 1.6 million members of AFSCME cannot in good conscience make such a sizeable financial investment in Indiana knowing that women and men in that state are deliberately being targeted for discrimination,” Saunders noted.

Additionally AFSCME has decided to move its 2015 Women’s Conference out of Indiana in response to the law.

“Throughout our proud history, our union has stood up whenever injustice has occurred – be it for striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, or for the victims of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s,” Saunders continued. “Governor Pence’s law, motivated by ultra-right wing zealots, is an affront to the vast majority of those in our nation who believe that every American deserves equal treatment under the law, no matter whom they love or where they worship.”

Pence has defended the law as an important step towards protecting religious freedom. He also argues federal law and the Supreme Court have previously supported such religious rights.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence declared in a statement.

“In the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means,” he continued. “Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action.”

“At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes,” the governor added. “And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action.”

“Allowing businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community or anyone else is wrong, regardless of the reason,” Augusta Thomas, the national vice president for the women’s and fair practices departments at the AFGE, noted in a statement. “Our nation repudiated legal discrimination more than 50 years ago, and we’re not going back.”

“This is the same kind of discriminatory behavior that once targeted African Americans, when we were forced to attend separate schools, use separate bathrooms, and drink from separate water fountains than whites,” Thomas said.

“Growing up in the segregated South, I experienced intolerance, bigotry and prejudice firsthand. Discrimination is a part of America’s history, but we cannot allow it to be part of our future,” Thomas concluded.

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