The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has followed through with a threat to relocate its 2017 convention from Indianapolis due to concerns about the "religious freedom" law and lack of anti-discrimination protections for some citizens.
The church's board on Tuesday voted unanimously to seek another venue for the convention. Church officials said the law sent a message that some of its attendees might not be welcome in certain Indiana businesses.
"As a Christian church, we affirm and support religious freedom," General Minister and President Sharon Watkins said in a prepared statement. "It is, in fact, a core principle for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are also strongly committed to an inclusive community -- just as Jesus welcomed all to the table."
The timing comes as the business community and state leaders are negotiating the addition of anti-discrimination language to the law.
The current measure prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person's ability to exercise their religion -- unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least-restrictive means of achieving it. It takes effect July 1.
Critics fear it could allow business owners to deny services to gays and lesbians for religious reasons.
Spokeswoman Cherilyn Williams told The Indianapolis Star that church officials were unsure a legislative fix currently being considered would be adequate to address all of their concerns. The state's lack of anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and sexual identity, in particular soured them on Indiana.
"We're not sure the fix will be adequate to address all of our concerns," Williams said.
She said there were no plans to relocate the church headquarters from Indianapolis. Church officials, she said, wanted to make a statement by moving the convention.
"We are a church that values diversity and values freedom of religion," Williams said. "For us, ... (that) cannot impede the freedom of others."
She said the church had signed a letter of intent with Visit Indy to hold the convention in Indianapolis in 2017. It's not clear whether breaking that agreement will carry any penalties.
Visit Indy has been trying to convince the church to allow the convention to stay in Indianapolis amid concerns about the law, said Chris Gahl, spokesman for the tourism group.
"We've not yet received a notice of cancellation from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), nor are we aware of any hotel cancellations for their 2017 annual convention, so we continue to work to keep them in Indy," Gahl said Wednesday.
Ten conventions and 700 people already have called with concerns about the "religious freedom" legislation, he added.
On March 25, Disciples of Christ officials sent a letter to Gov. Mike Pence to ask him to consider vetoing the "religious freedom" bill, saying it sent the wrong signal for Indiana.
Pence signed the bill Thursday.
Indianapolis isn't the only city struggling to hang onto conventions in the wake of the new law. In Fort Wayne, 2WPTA-TV has reported that six conventions with a combined economic impact of $1.2 million, are reconsidering coming there due to concerns over discrimination in the "religious freedom" law.
By Chris Sikich, The Indianapolis Star
Source: The USA TODAY