Thousands want Big Ten to pull championship football game from Indiana

Petition in response to Religious Freedom Restored Act

An online petition has collected more than 11,000 signatures calling on the Big Ten Conference to move the football championship game scheduled to be in Indianapolis later this year.

The petition is in response to a bill passed by the Indiana legislature and signed by the governor there. The Religious Freedom Restored Act is being criticized by some for allowing businesses to use religious beliefs to discriminate against gay and lesbian consumers.

“I am shocked at the degree at which Indiana’s law came across,” said Sean Burke, the creator of the online petition.

Burke said the Big Ten Championship football game brings millions of dollars to the communities, and the loss of that revenue would deliver a strong message.

“I saw the Final Four was coming but realized the possibility of changing so quickly wasn’t going to happen, but with the championship game for football coming in December, it gives the Big Ten plenty of time to address the issue and make the appropriate changes,” Burke said.

Pulling a major sporting event from a venue because of a controversial decision in a state is not without precedent. In 1993, the NFL pulled a Super Bowl scheduled to be held in Arizona after voters there chose not to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday.

Eleven states have religious freedom laws, including Wisconsin. According to Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, those laws protect religious freedoms and do not impose religious beliefs on groups of people.

“Like all Americans, we think that ACLU and religious freedom and the constitution all go together quite well,” Ahmuty said. “But the bill in Indiana is perhaps a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The new law in Indiana is similar to one passed last year by the legislature in Arizona, but it was vetoed by the governor there.

Ahmuty believes the law in Indiana may be a backlash from a series of recent court rulings legalizing gay marriage in many states. He also said a backlash in public opinion from individuals, groups and corporations may cause Indiana to rethink their law. If not, Ahmuty said a court case could challenge the law if individuals in Indiana are harmed by it.