Ballard: Indianapolis 'will not be defined' by RFRA

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis will not simply sit and watch as its reputation is tarnished by the state's new religious freedom law, Mayor Greg Ballard said at a press conference Monday.

Although Ballard had previously come out against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Monday was the first time the mayor had spoken publicly on the matter since it was signed into law Thursday.

"Indianapolis will not be defined by this," Ballard said. "Indianapolis will not be defined by this. Indianapolis welcomes everybody."

Ballard said city attorneys had been working since Thursday to determine the potential legal ramifications of the law on the city – particularly in regards to its LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance.

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He also said he had issued an executive order affirming that any entity that receives public funds from the city must agree to abide by that ordinance.

"This isn't about politics. This isn't about PR. This is about doing what's right for individuals, for our city, and our state," Ballard said. "Discrimination is wrong, and I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at the Statehouse."

Ballard also called Monday for Governor Mike Pence and lawmakers at the Statehouse to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Currently, Indiana's civil rights statute has no language specifically protecting LGBT individuals.

Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle – who announced last week that the company would be withdrawing a proposal for $18 million in tax incentives to expand its east-side headquarters – said at the conference Monday that the business was looking for ways to remain in Indianapolis.

Oesterle also said he was "not at all" encouraged by responses so far from Indiana lawmakers.

"They're scrambling to put a good face on a bad issue," Oesterle said. "What puzzles me is how this issue came to the top of the legislative agenda when clearly the business community doesn't support it, and the people of Indiana don't support it.

"I think the photograph of the bill signing made it all too clear who's driving the legislative agenda in this state, and I just think that's wrong," Oesterle added.

While Ballard said the extent of the law's economic impacts on the city wasn't yet known, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President Michael Huber said other states were already using RFRA to try to lure businesses away.

"Our competitor cities are already running press to try to poach our businesses, and it's really shameful because this isn't something we supported," Huber said. "We knew that it would be bad, which is why as an organization representing over 2,200 businesses we were against it. But it's been worse than we anticipated. We're 100 percent in support of the mayor's position."

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Ballard finished by reassuring those visiting Indianapolis for this weekend's Final Four that they were welcome.

"For those traveling through our city for the Final Four this weekend, let me be clear: We welcome all," Ballard said. "Hoosier hospitality is alive and well in Indy, and it will be extended to everybody."

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