INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana has a reputation for intolerance that will remain if the state Legislature declines again to approve a hate crimes law this session, advocates said Tuesday.
“We need this for business growth, for our reputation as a state and because we need to stand on the right side of history,” Anita Joshi, a pediatrician who has lived in the state for 25 years, said during a statehouse rally.
Indiana is one of just five states without laws that specifically take into account crimes motivated by biases such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. But every year efforts to create such protections founder amid fierce opposition from conservatives who say it would create special protected classes that treat victims of similar crimes differently.
This year, however, there is cause for optimism, advocates say. Both Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and House Speaker Brian Bosma have said they are open to the possibility.
A change in tone from some powerful Republicans comes in the wake of clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead in August. It also comes amid a heated debate over whether President Donald Trump is a racist, which touched off after he made disparaging comments last week about Haiti and referred to “shithole” countries in Africa.
The rally sought to build support for legislation addressing so-called bias crime, including a measure sponsored Republican Sen. Sue Glick, of LaGrange. It would allow a judge to take into account during sentencing whether a crime was motivated by factors like a person’s race, religion sexual orientation and ethnicity.
“Forty-five states and the federal government have felt it appropriate,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat. “It’s time for Indiana.”
Glick pulled the plug on a similar bill last year after Republican Sen. Mike Delph, of Carmel, sought amendments that would have gutted the measure. It died the same day that the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center received a bomb threat.
Still, the measure’s chance of passage this year is far from certain in a state where resistance to change is often touted as a virtue.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said hate crimes laws amount to a “politically correct” effort that would set “Indiana down the course of punishing thoughts.”
“In America, we prosecute people for what they do not for what they think,” Clark said. “Where is the evidence that crimes are being adequately prosecuted?”
Clark voiced concern that a hate crimes law would elevate the status of certain classes of people, including gays and lesbians, over others.
Many supporters hope economic arguments could help persuade Republicans.
Indiana has struggled to adapt to an increasingly global economy. However, one bright spot has been the emerging tech sector in Indianapolis. Without a hate crimes law, though, advocates argue it makes it more difficult to the lure a diverse set of companies and high-skilled workers needed to fill the void.
“Time and time again, Indiana is its own worst enemy,” said Kyle Casteel of Indianapolis, who would be protected as a gay man by such a law. “We send a message to the rest of the country that only certain kinds of people are welcome here.”