March 31, 2015 Last Updated 9:14 am

Gannett’s Indy Star uses dramatic front page to argue for changes to controversial new state law

Governor goes on Fox and says new “law was never intended to create the impression that businesses can turn away customers” – though it was for, if not that, is still unclear

The Gannett owned Indianapolis Star this morning featured a front page with a simple, but dramatic message: Fix This Now. The headline is in reference to the recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which supporters say was designed to reinforce religious freedom in Indiana, but which actually had only the goal of allowing citizens and businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians, using a shield of religious freedom.

IndyStar-300The passing of the legislation, and its signing into law by Gov. Mike Pence, has led several prominent business leaders to publicly criticize the law, and threaten action that would take business away from the state of Indiana.

“There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country,”wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in a column in The Washington Post.

“A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law,” Cook wrote.

As a result, many business leaders have warned the governor that the recently passed legislation will cost their businesses money, and Indiana residents jobs. The IndyStar itself might also suffer if national advertisers stay away.

“We are at a critical moment in Indiana’s history,” the papers editors wrote.

“And much is at stake.”

“Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.”

So the Republican governor went on Fox & Friends this morning to say that the new law is not about discrimination. “This law was never intended to create the impression that businesses can turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation, we are going to fix that,” Pence said.

The problem is that if the law was not intended to provide cover for turning away gays, what was its intent? Is the governor saying that Indiana has a history of discrimination against those with religious beliefs, that without this legislation Indiana would be a state where those with religious beliefs are, themselves, discriminated against?

In fact, based on comments in Indiana media outlets, this is precisely the argument being put forward: that preventing someone from discriminating against gays is itself a form of discrimination. Indiana’s legislation in 2014 passed a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, though the proposed ban has not gone to the voters, and likely will not pending an expected ruling on the matter by the Supreme Court later this year.

“Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage,” the Indy Star wrote this morning.

But it is unlikely that months and years of efforts by Indiana to pass laws against gay rights will easily be forgotten by companies looking to expand their businesses.

As for Gannett’s newspaper in Indianapolis, its influence is probably not what it once was. The Star’s latest circulation report shows a daily circulation of 139,839, down 40 percent from a decade ago when it stood at 233,783.

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