Religious freedom law faces higher ed backlash

Presidents from several Indiana colleges and universities express opposition

When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a controversial “religious freedom” bill, he probably didn’t expect the backlash that resulted. Although supporters claim the law provides protection for individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs, opponents say it opens the door for legal discrimination.

Presidents from a number of Indiana institutions including Butler, Indiana, DePauw, Hanover, Ball State, and Valparaiso released statements opposing the law, which they say could turn prospective students away.

Butler University President James Danko spoke up after hearing that prospective students and some school employees had questioned whether the school was a welcoming environment. “I felt it was having more of an effect on the business of the university,” he told The Butler Collegian.

Speaking to NPR, Hanover College President Sue DeWine said the law had “consequences that are an affront to everything that Hanover stands for.”

The controversy unfolded during the annual NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. The Final Four games were played in Indiana’s Lucas Oil Stadium. Member schools made their opposition to the law known early.

Coaches from the University of Connecticut said they wouldn’t attend the games because of the law. Pat Haden, athletic director at the University of Southern California, said he wouldn’t attend upcoming NCAA College Football Playoff meetings. The Mid-American Conference, which oversees teams in 23 sports, took a stand as well when Commissioner John Steinbrecher told ESPN the MAC would not schedule events in Indiana until the situation resolved.

Under pressure, Pence agreed to a “clarified” version of the law, but opponents say it doesn’t address the underlying concerns. Similar bills in Georgia and Nevada have been scrapped due to backlash from the business community. And after first refusing to sign a similar bill into law, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did sign a revised version.

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