Gen Con’s Letter to the Indiana Governor

Just two days ago Gen Con’s owner and CEO Adrian Swartout sent a letter to Indiana’s governor Mike Pence and basically threatened that Gen Con will leave Indianapolis in the future if SB 101 becomes law.


So what is SB 101 all about? It’s called an “religious freedom” bill but in my opinion it’s not about freedom at all. Basically it prevents the state from taking any measures that “burdens” a person’s exercise of religion unless it’s proven that there’s compelling interest and the measures taken are as restrictive as possible. Critics fear that the bill will basically allow citizens and businesses to discriminate against people particularly against gays and lesbians among others.

In my opinion a state should strive for equal rights for all people and provide equal grounds for everyone. But Indiana wants to create a law that limits its abilities to create that open ground because religious people get special rights.  In my opinion such a law is against the US constitution, but I am neither a lawyer nor an American citizen, so that’s for other people to decide.

But I was very pleased when I read that Gen Con LLC openly speaks out against such legislations. As I was in Indianapolis in 2010 I was welcomed with open arms and I enjoyed the “warm Hoosier hospitality” everywhere I went. But I would think twice about going there again, if I felt that Indiana business and citizens are basically allowed to discriminate against people based on their religion. And I always thought Christianity was based on tolerance. But as soon as you’re merely feel “burdened”, your precious faith is more important than the rights of your fellow man? That’s bullshit. Religious freedom includes the freedom from religion as well. Equal ground is non-existent if everyone got their way based on their world views.

In my opinion Indianapolis was a perfect fit for Gen Con. The convention thrived there for many years and I felt welcome there. I really hope governor Pence does the right thing and puts this bill into the place it belongs: the recyle bin! Gen Con is a convention where people from all over the world meet to play games, talk about their hobby, make business deals, and spent their hard-earned cash on gaming products, and of course in business all over the city and beyond. And I can fully understand if Gen Con moves to another city if it fears that some of it attendents are not welcome anymore.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

19 thoughts on “Gen Con’s Letter to the Indiana Governor”

  1. Here’s the thing. This religious freedom law (using the identical language) is already on the books at the federal level(and many states). This is not a new law. This is Indiana offering its state the same protections that are already granted at the federal level and in many states.

    Religious freedom laws are meant to protect people, not to discriminate against them. This doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate. And its perfectly constitutional as has already been proven by the courts. If you went to Gen Con after this law was passed, you would notice no difference whatsoever. None.

    Should a neo nazi group be able to use the gov’t to FORCE a jewish business to cater their event? Should a pig farmer be able to FORCE a muslim to serve bacon at their restaurant? Should a lesbian be able to FORCE a christian to cater her wedding? These are all legitimate questions where one persons rights to freedom from discrimination conflict with anothers right to free association and free exercise of religion.

    One persons rights only exist up until they start taking away other peoples rights. The right to fair treatment doesn’t mean you can force someone to do things they don’t want to do, and weren’t doing already. Otherwise, you’ve essentially brought a tiny bit of slavery back because one person gets to force the other person to do something they should have a right not to do. This isn’t about refusing service (if the cake is already baked, they can’t refuse to sell it) at a counter. This is about forcing people to create things they don’t want to create or be a part of an event they wouldn’t not participate in of their own choosing.

    There exists a right of freedom of association and religion that is in conflict with a right against discrimination. The line has to be drawn somewhere. You either make one group mad, or the other. One group feels protected and the other feels aggrieved.

    1. The thing is simple: In most civilized countries, including the US (see Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) it’s forbidden to discriminate against people because of religion, color, race, etc. The new law now sets limits to this Civil Rights Act because you now get a loophole that allows you to discriminate based on your religious views. That’s definitely a step back. And as far as I am informed, several similar laws like Indiana’s SB 101 have already been overturned or have not been signed by the respective governors because of that.
      And you actually got it backwards. Noone’s rights will be taken away if SB 101 will go to the trash. But if it becomes law it’s another step in the wrong direction. It’s in the same line of thought that brought us “highlights” like “teach the controversy” and similar crap. It’s the attempt of a vocal religious minority to turn a country based on freedom and secularism into a Christian theocracy.

  2. I don’t think you could misunderstand it more. No one is trying to turn anything into a theocracy. That idea is honestly, absurd. This is about freedom of association as much as disallowing laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. And you keep saying “new law”. This has been the law of the land for over 20 years (and not a minority law but passed with almost 100% in favor), and was practically the case long before that. The prohibition on gov’t making laws impeding the free exercise of religion was listed first for a reason.Because it was the most important amendment. It’s simply not just to coerce a free citizen to countermand their religion (when there is no compelling gov’t interest) using the power of the gov’t. This law prohibits that. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    1. You might think what I said is absurd, but perhaps you should look closer at the agenda of various religious organizations in the US. And you should look closely at the history of the USA.

      I use “new law” because the SB 101 we’re talking about is actually new and has recently been voted for with 63 vs 31 votes, so it’s hardly a 100% in favor. You should also note that I am not the only one who thinks that the bill sends a wrong message.

      The law you refer to is probably the “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act”. Yes, it has been law for the last 22 years, but according to the Supreme Court it only applied to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and federal entities, and NOT the states. That’s actually the reason SB 101 exists in the first place, because the “old law” doesn’t apply in Indiana.

      And your argument that it’s just about freedom of religion is like #gamergate’s argument that the whole kerfuffle was about ethics in journalism. SB 101 is Indiana’s Republicans way to show their voters that they are doing something against marriage equality in particular and the LGBTQ community in general or other issues like contraception and abortion. In my opinion it’s perverse if a business can exempt certain medication from their health care plans because it’s against their religious beliefs, or that an anesthesist can refuse to work during an abortion because of his or her beliefs.

      A modern society can only work if people accept that the state is secular and while it allows freedom of religion (and freedom from religion) it must be clear that the rules apply to everyone. As soon as you allow people to circumvent these rules because of their Bronze Age religion, things start to fall apart.

      Would you be ok with it, if a religion allowed slavery, and because of laws like SB 101 or RFRA government wasn’t able to ban it? Or what about human sacrifice? Or what about Female Genital Mutilation? Some religions consider it part of their traditions. Is it ok then?

      What I try to say is that as soon as you raise religious views onto a pedestal and make it more important than other world views, you don’t strive for a free and equal society anymore. People with the “right” religious views get special rights, while people who don’t have any religion or just not the favorable one, get degraded to second-rate citizens.

    2. Horse-pocky. There is a difference between being free to practice my religion (which is difficult here in America, as it is seen as backwards and violent by people who don’t know what they are talking about) and being free to mistreat others. This is something that people who want to retard change because they like the situation as is, (or as was, or as never was but they believe was) like to say because it is misleading.

      You mention Muslims and bacon. Let’s take that as an example, since that is what I am (Muslim, not bacon). If I run a restaurant and don’t serve bacon, no law in the US will force me to serve bacon. And that is NOT what this law is about, though its defenders will insist, but it doesn’t hold water as an argument. People who want bacon can eat my halal turkey bacon, or they can eat somewhere else. But if people come in who are Christian and I say they can’t eat in my restaurant because they are eaters of swine, even before they order, I am discriminating. Why? Because I am treating them differently. In my restaurant, *everybody* is welcome and *nobody* gets pork. Everybody is treated the same. And I am not stopping anybody from getting pork elsewhere.

      This law gives nobody any legitimate rights they did not have before. But it does make it easier for people to exclude others, to fail to treat them fairly, and to offer their religious or moral stance as “justification” for that. And saying it’s a matter of religious freedom is idiotic, because religious freedom in the US does not protect crime. If a Thugee cultist runs a Motel 6 and murders the occasional guest for the goddess Kali, his plea of religious freedom will not save him from trial for murder (well, I’m not sure about in Indiana).

      So, how far may one go to exercise one’s religious beliefs? And how ridiculous might it get? And how unfair? If the manager of a Motel 6 (not the Thug) wants not to give a shared room to same-sex couples, does he do the same to unmarried straight couples?

      This law is phony baloney because it is not intended to do anything but support one religious group, Protestant Evangelical Christians (PEC) and their particular prejudices. Saying it extends further is just camouflage.

      To be fair, many Protestant Evangelical Christians opposed this law, and others who are not Protestant Evangelical Christians supported it. But as someone who was raised Catholic and was often given grief about it by PECs, and who has since embraced Islam, and is given grief about that, I know that “Evangelical” means that one item of belief is that they have the right–in fact, the duty–of pointing out that everyone who is not a PEC is in a false faith and should change it.

      To a lot of them, religious freedom means they have the right to leave religious brochures at my door. I think it means I have the right to be left alone.

      This law is a bad idea on so many levels. It just gives legal protection to mean people. And it’s going to be bad for business. I had planned to go to GenCon but no. Not until the law or the location changes.

      In the US laws are made first and then have to face challenge in the Courts. This one will be challenged and will probably at worst have to be modified. We’ll see. The history of mankind is the history of stupid, unjust laws.

      I thought it was disgusting about the Indiana Governor saying that there was a “Conspiracy” to make Indiana look like a state full of bigots. But no, Governor. You did that with the stroke of a pen.

      The one bright side is that Both Florida and Arizona get a break from being the most embarrassing state in the Union. At least for a while.

      1. I need to point out that I was responding to the Bigrow Jacknest’s argument, not Michael’s. And while I did not agree with it, Bigrow is obviously well-informed and articulate.

  3. I’m sure you’re familiar with the first amendment. I suggest you read it again. Because it was written to protect rights. All Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act does is restore the Sherbert test, requiring a compelling interest for laws that infringe on religious liberty, for interpreting the Free Exercise Clause, a test the courts employed from 1963 to 1990. There are tons of case law applying this standard and interpreting the language. When the Supreme Court threw out the Sherbert test in 1990 in the Employment Division v. Smith case in favor of a much lower standard (laws of general applicability can infringe on religious freedom), conservatives and liberal groups, including the ACLU, were outraged and joined together in coalition to support the reinstatement of the Sherbert test by congressional enactment. A bill was introduced by then Rep. Schumer (D-NY) in the House. It passed UNANIMOUSLY in the House and 97-3 in the Senate. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In 1997, the Supreme Court found that the federal RFRA could not apply to the states for FEDERALISM reasons and left it up to states to adopt their own. Twenty states have done so, including states run by Democrats and Republicans. There is nothing in the slightest bit unique or unprecedented about Indiana’s RFRA which merely reflects the federal one and the one adopted by 20 other states. Indiana needs to adopt the law because if the state doesn’t the much lower standard employed in Employment Division applies.

    Your genital mutilation comparisons are intellectually dishonest at best. There is simply nothing in this law that suggests such a thing would be permissible. I’m honestly curious why you would bring them up other than an effort at melodramatic fearmongering.

  4. “What I try to say is that as soon as you raise religious views onto a pedestal and make it more important than other world views, you don’t strive for a free and equal society anymore.”

    What you’re advocating here is the abolition of the first amendment so you might as well come out and say it. Nothing less would achieve this goal. The first amendment makes clear that certain freedoms ARE more important. Religion, the press, freedom to assemble, speech. These rights DO trump other freedoms like ones world views. This is on purpose. The people who constructed this country made that decision. If people want to change that they’ll need to amend the constitution, which is a fair argument that it should be done. But until that time, it’s a good idea to adhere to it as best we can. To not do so would be lawless at best and anarchy at worst.

    1. Let’s clarify a few things. I am not from the US and my understanding of freedom of religion is different from how many Americans see it. I also understand how Americans value the first amendment but I believe that in some cases it goes too far. But that’s probably the European in me.
      I guess we can discuss this topic for ages and we will never be on the same page. So I think we each made our points as well as we could (I probably didn’t get all my points across as well as I wished, but English is only my second language and I am no expert on US laws and politics), but we probably only agree to disagree.
      By the way, I used the genital mutilation example, because often it helps to exaggerate to get a point across. I don’t think it’s that much more ridiculous than your example of the pig farmer and the Muslim restaurant.

  5. As an American, but not an Indiana-ian, I am glad to see someone who can have a serious financial effect tell them to back off this. Give ’em hell, Gen Con!

  6. My major concern about this isn’t about freedom of religion or discrimination. My main concern is about a corporation being able to tell a state government what it should be doing.

    If this was Exxon, Apple, or Monsanto people would be up in arms about “corporate money influencing policy”. But because it’s our nerd mecca there isn’t any of that.

    1. In my opinion it’s ok for a business to show when it’s uncomfortable with certain legislations. I definitely prefer the open approach Gen Con LLC took than back room lobbying.

    2. When people try to influence government and tell it what it should be doing, it’s called “democracy.”

      GenCon LLC is not buying politicians nor is it contributing huge amounts of money into the election process, which like it or not, it has the right to do, according to the Roberts Court. What it is doing is saying, “well, then, we might go somewhere else.” It’s also doing it publicly instead of in secret back-room deals.

      Your parallel fails. But I see the point you are making.

  7. Drew makes a good point. Although, I believe the market place is a fair place to make these statements. If a corporation doesn’t like a states policy toward business, they should be free to do business elsewhere. This is preferable to the government stepping in and telling everyone what to do at risk of prison or losing their business. The example that gets trotted out is, “Can the gov’t force a baker to bake a penis shaped cake?”. I don’t think they should be able to do that.

    1. I doubt there will ever be legislation that forces a baker to bake penis shaped cakes. But there shouldn’t be a law that allows a baker to refuse service to someone just because the customer doesn’t fit into the baker’s religious world view.

      1. Without legislation protecting the rights of business owners to refuse business they find offensive, then this could certainly happen. It’s already happened in Colorado. A man is suing a baker for not preparing a cake with anti-gay messaging on it. The baker refused because she found the messaging offensive. Should the gov’t be able to compel her to bake the cake? I think not.

  8. I don’t know (or care!) enough to say if I’m for or against this bill.

    What I do know is that gen con shouldn’t be getting involved in this. What if I disagree with this, I have to boycott gen con now? Do gaming conventions have to divide themselves into liberal and conservative? Idiotic.

    I know they think they’re doing good work and that everyone should support them. But not everyone does. And the idea I have to support their cause no matter what is making me prejudiced against it.

    Just stop.

  9. I have to agree with Michael, kudos to Gen Con for standing against bigotry and intolerance. The idea that the law in question merely reiterates the law of the land is an excuse to whitewash a direct attack on the LGBTT community. Slavery and Jim Crow were also the law of the land and wise men and women saw fit to change them.

    Equating a lesbian couple with Nazis, or forcing a muslim to sell bacon are false equivalencies. Sexual identity is NOT the same as a racist oppressive political moment or violating the religious beliefs of one group for the commercial interests of others. I am aghast that such extreme arguments are used to defend what ultimately is intolerance.

    Individuals may hold to their antiquated ideas, but the tide of history is moving to more tolerance and equality. Wonder if you would support such a law if it allowed people to refuse services to minorities, or interracial couples, because that violates the store owner’s religious rights. These same arguments were made against integration, against interracial marriages. People may wrap themselves in false proclamations of liberty or tradition, but ultimately it boils down to religious intolerance.

    This is NOT about liberals or conservatives, this is about basic human dignity!

    I support Gen Con, and understand that they may be contractually forced to stay there a little while longer, I for one will NOT visit Indianapolis and spend my tourist dollars there.

    1. You’re also advocating for the abolition of the first amendment. So your comparisons to slavery are apt. However, they corrected the slavery issue the proper way. They amended the constitution. If you want to remove the enshrined right to freedom to practice your religion without gov’t intervention than a constitutional amendment is the only way to do it. Otherwise and until then, “congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion”. I will simply close with this. Be careful what you wish for. You may feel the gov’t is in line with your views now, and so your willingness to give them the authority over individuals business decisions. But come the day that the gov’t is out of step with your beliefs, you will regret giving them that authority. And it will be nearly impossible to get it back.

      No ill will to anyone on this thread. Least of all Stargazer, a blogger I very much appreciate and respect (if not always agree with). While I have no interest in boycotting GenCon or Indiana or whatever, I make no bones with people who choose to do so. That is precisely the free association and choice I seek to protect. Thanks for the interesting back and forth.

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