Signed March 26, Republican Governor of Indiana Mike Pence put the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into effect. The law allows Indiana businesses to cite religious freedom as a legal defense when refusing service. Ramifications from the RFRA, to take effect on July 1, include the threat of loss of Indiana Convention Center’s largest show, Gen Con, to be held July 30-August 2.
The language of the law protects businesses and individuals from the government who may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Opponents of the legislation interpret RFRA as a justification for discriminating against the LGBTQ community due to religious beliefs and are condemning businesses that plan on exercising the legal defense, including the Indiana Convention Center.
Adrian Swartout, CEO and owner of Gen Con, the largest tabletop-game convention in North America attracting 56,000 in 2014, penned a letter to Gov. Pence indicating that the show would reconsider Indianapolis as its host city due to the signing of RFRA, also known as Indiana Senate Bill 101 (SB 101).
“For more than a decade, Indianapolis has provided tremendous hospitality and accommodation to our attendees, culminating in an estimated annual economic impact of more than $50 million [sic] to the city,” stated Swartout. “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”
In an open letter to attendees, Swartout confirmed that the show has begun the five-year bidding process to consider other convention destinations following its contract with the city of Indianapolis, to end in 2020.
“I sent a letter to Governor Pence because our organization felt compelled to highlight the concerns of many attendees and exhibitors. The letter addressed their fear of potential right of service refusal, possible discrimination, and overall voiced our disapproval with SB 101. The message this legislation sends to tourists, Indy locals and the overall business community is one of exclusion,” Swartout explained. “Governor Mike Pence signed SB 101 into law. While this is disappointing, it was not unexpected, and leads to the question, ‘What does this mean for the future of Gen Con?’ Discussions whether to remain in Indy or move elsewhere, have begun.”
Swartout promised this year’s event to be “inclusive and fun.” However, Gen Con delegates are to report both positive and negative experiences with local hospitality during the 2015 convention that will be reviewed during the annual post-convention employee summit.
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