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Petition to Move NCAA Out of Indiana Over 'Religious Freedom' Law Gaining Momentum

The controversial legislation comes under fire from from activists ahead of the college basketball tournament finals held in the state.

by Gillian Mohney
Mar 30 2015, 3:23pm

Photo by Michael Conroy/AP

Religious leaders, sports commentators, and thousands of Americans from across the country are among a growing congregation of voices calling for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to boycott Indiana over the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act it enacted last week.

Less than a week before the NCAA is set to host its Final Four games of its March Madness tournament, a petition titled "Move The NCAA Out of Indiana" has so far received over 58,000 signatures.

"Now that the Indiana governor has signed into law the right for businesses to freely discriminate under the guise of religious freedom, the NCAA should relocate its national headquarters," the petition states. "That move would be consistent with the organization's sanctioning of both South Carolina and Mississippi for state-sponsored bigotry."

The public outcry has also been echoed within the sport's echelons, with NBA superstar and commentator Charles Barkley saying Friday that Indiana should be stripped of its ability to host a semi-final match on April 4 in Indianapolis.

"Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me," Barkley told USA Today in a statement. "As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states' cities."

Baptist minister and civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. has also expressed his disdain for the new legislation.

The outrage follows Indiana Governor Mike Pence's weekend comments in which he said he would support the introduction of new legislation that would "clarify" the contentious bill that he signed into law last week, after intensifying backlash led to protests in the capital and calls from business leaders for the law to be changed.

Pence approved the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week after it was passed by the Republican-held state legislature and has maintained his support for the legislation, despite the countrywide response.

"This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it," Pence said in a statement shortly after signing the bill into state law.

But critics of the law have said the bill essentially legalizes discrimination against gays, lesbians, and other members of the LGBTQ community, because Indiana state law does not declare that people of different sexual orientation are legally protected from discrimination.

Speaking on ABC News' "This Week," Pence said it was "absolutely not" a mistake to sign the bill into law.

Pence defended his decision, saying the new law is "to empower individuals when they believe the actions of government impinge on their constitutional freedom of religion." He did not say how the law could be "clarified" to appease critics.

The President of the Human Rights Campaign said Pence's would need to support new legislation with explicit "non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers."

"If Governor Pence is right, and he really doesn't want to discriminate, he needs to prove it by protecting the LGBT residents and visitors truly at risk in Indiana," HRC President Chad Grifftin said in a statement. "Anything less is a shameful face-saving measure."

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Pence said he would welcome new legislation that "clarifies" the current law, and that the law will not give people free reign to discriminate.

"I just can't account for the hostility that's been directed at our state," he told the Indianapolis Star. "I've been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill."

Pence has not said how the law would be clarified or changed with new legislation. Since the bill's passing, he has faced increasing backlash both from local and national figures.

Related: Indiana Governor Under Fire for Creating State-Sponsored 'News Outlet'

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators descended on Indianapolis with signs with phrases such as "No Hate in Our State" and "Hate Costs the State, Love is Free" to protest the bill's passage, according to Reuters.

The same day, the CEO of the website Angie's List, which lists businesses online and is headquartered in Indianapolis, said the company had indefinitely halted a project to expand their headquarters in response to the bill's passage.

"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future," said Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said in a statement. "Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none, and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents."

Apple CEO Tim Cooke, who is openly gay, announced that the company was "disappointed" by the bill's passage.

Related: Hackers Shut Down Indianapolis Website After Controversial 'Anti-Gay' Bill Passes

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has also disparaged the law, calling it "unnecessary."

"The reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention," said Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

Earlier this week, SalesForce.com CEO Marc Benioff announced he would cancel all programs that would require customers to travel to Indiana. Benioff and Pence reportedly spoke over the phone after the bill became law, but ban on work-required travel to Indiana would remain, according to the Indianapolis Star.

VICE News' Liz Fields contributed to this report.