Mayor encourages residents, businesses to boycott Indiana in response to controversial law

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Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates released a statement Thursday encouraging Berkeley residents and businesses to “boycott Indiana” in response to the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The act, also known as the RFRA, was signed into law last month by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and permits individuals and organizations to exercise their religious freedom without “substantial burden” from a government entity unless the burden “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.”

Concerns over the act center mostly on its broad wording, which critics say may allow businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. After noting that there was a “great misunderstanding” of the legislation, Pence signed a revision to the law that would prevent discrimination against LGBT individuals by businesses.

In a statement released last week, Bates encouraged residents “not (to) travel to Indiana or do business with companies that are headquartered there as long as this injustice continues.”

According to the statement, Councilmember Darryl Moore is planning to introduce an item to City Council that would ban publicly funded nonessential travels to Indiana until the law is repealed. Such a statement follows similar moves made by Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, and Edwin Lee, the mayor of San Francisco.

Bernard Schlager, a professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, said the law “can be used to discriminate against gay individuals,” even though the bill’s supporters say the law does not support discrimination.

Schalager added that he personally does not support the legislation and believes that no laws in the country should ever be used to discriminate against any individual.

Similarly, Tiffany Chen, chair of Cal Queer and Asian, said in an email that the act is not surprising to her given that “there is still a resounding intolerance for queer folks in the Midwest and the south.”

But Claire Chiara, the president of Berkeley College Republicans and a former Daily Californian staff writer, said she does not believe that the law encourages discrimination, although she said she understands how the wording of the act might cause controversy.

The law, Chiara said, allows businesses to decline participating in an “outside event” that may be against their religious beliefs.

As an example, Chiara cited the case earlier this year of an Indiana pizzeria that closed down temporarily as a result of nationwide backlash against the business allegedly being anti-gay.

According to Chiara, the pizzeria — which never refused service to gay individuals, as was commonly perceived — was seen as anti-gay only because it said that if the business were asked to, it would not cater a gay wedding ceremony due to religious beliefs. Chiara said she supports freedom of religion, just like any other type of freedom.

Bates could not be reached for comment.

Contact Natchapol Praditpetchara at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @natchapolp.