De Blasio, Cuomo Bar Non-Essential Government Travel to Indiana

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer addressed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act at a press conference in Brooklyn on March 31. | GAY CITY NEWS

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer addressed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act at a press conference in Brooklyn on March 31. | GAY CITY NEWS

Responding to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo separately announced bans on non-essential travel to Indiana by government employees.

“It’s a deeply disturbing reality right now in Indiana and I hope, before it’s too late, that they turn back,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “I will instruct all New York City agencies to prohibit any non-essential travel to the state of Indiana.”

The mayor was at a community center in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood to announce a $3 billion grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair and install resiliency measures at 33 public housing developments in the city that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. He was joined by a number of elected officials, including Senator Chuck Schumer, who was a champion of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. Elected officials in Indiana, notably Governor Mike Pence, have said that Indiana’s law is the same as the federal act.

Schumer rejects Pence's comparison between Indiana law and 1993 federal statute New York senator championed

“Any comparison between the two is false and disingenuous for two reasons,” Schumer said at the March 31 event. “First, in our bill we wanted to maximize the religious freedom of individuals provided there is no compelling government interest against them. If there was ever a compelling government interest, preventing discrimination is that, so it has no application. Second, our bill was aimed at individuals, giving individuals more religious freedom. What Indiana does is give corporations and companies more freedom to reject. That’s different.”

Separately, Cuomo announced that state employees would be barred from any non-essential travel to Indiana. It is not clear how much or how little city and state employees travel to Indiana, but the travel bans add to the growing public pressure on that state to reverse course on a law that is widely perceived as little more than a license to discriminate against LGBT people.

The law has spawned a ferocious outcry. Rochester, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, St. Paul, West Palm Beach, and the states of Washington and Connecticut have all banned their public employees from using tax dollars to travel to Indiana. The public employee union, AFSCME, cancelled a conference that was scheduled for Indiana this year. Pence, a Republican governor, and the leaders of the state legislature have moved from defending the law to saying they would enact a clarification of it.

“This proposal in Indiana really undercuts decades and decades of progress on human rights and civil rights in this country,” de Blasio said. “The notion that government would allow overtly discrimination undercuts so much of what we fought for.”

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