By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
April 2, 2015
Thanks to the fact that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is taking place in Indianapolis, a national spotlight has been shown on the state of Indiana and its flawed religious freedom law.
The law, as initially written and signed by Governor Mike Pence, had the potential to allow businesses and others to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
However, thanks to media attention, and protests and boycotts from heavyweights such as the NCAA, Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy, NASCAR, NFL, NBA, numerous large businesses, USC athletic director Pat Haden, and even that fountain of enlightenment, Charles Barkely, Pence and Indiana lawmakers are backtracking and working on new language for the state’s religious freedom law.
The new effort is an attempt to clarify that Indiana’s religious freedom law doesn’t allow businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals by denying goods or services.
On another front, it’s certainly positive that as a result of increased attention on the Indiana situation, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his state’s lawmakers are being forced by heavyweight protests from the likes of Wal-Mart to modify their religious freedom law to protect the LGBT community and others from discriminatory practices.
Both of those developments are all well and good, and they provide further evidence that sport can positively impact society by leading the fight against injustices of all types. The problem is, it doesn’t look like either Indiana or Arkansas lawmakers are going to go far enough to fully protect LGBT citizens from discriminatory practices.
The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the federal level had good intentions. It basically stated that the courts shouldn’t be allowed to force religious denominations to participate in activities they find in opposition to their beliefs. For example, churches shouldn’t be told by the government that they have to bless same-sex unions (Of course, it would be perfectly fine if church members put internal pressure on a church’s leadership to change discriminatory policies of this type.)
However, anti-gay activists in states around the country saw the federal religious freedom act as an opportunity to legally sanction discriminatory acts in their states, such as florists refusing to sell bouquets to same-sex couples, or caterers refusing to deliver food to a same-sex wedding reception.
While the “fixes” in the works in Indiana and Arkansas are positives, they are so mostly from a public relations sense. What’s still sorely needed in both states is clear, statewide anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals in a variety of housing situations, and public and private employment scenarios.
Indiana and Arkansas (and other states that have so-called religious freedom acts minus the necessary anti-discrimination laws) need to simply, clearly and legally say “We’re an inclusive state that welcomes all. Discrimination is illegal in our state.”
The working principle here is that no “religious freedom” act in the United States should override an American citizen’s right to not be discriminated against.
Back to Indiana, site of Saturday’s Final Four. At this point, it doesn’t look like the religious freedom act modification in Indiana is going to amount to much from a legal perspective. As such, we need to keep the pressure on the Hoosier state. The first step should be for the NCAA to pull next year’s Women’s Final Four from Indiana — unless a comprehensive anti-discrimination law is quickly enacted.
Sport is a powerful cultural institution in this country. We’ve made the world a better place through sports in this country; from Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, to Curt Flood and Marvin Miller, to Billie Jean King and other Title IX pioneers.
Sport has an incredible potential to help overcome all types of injustices.
We need to realize that potential in Indiana.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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