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Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom, and what freedom really means, since Indiana passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act: signed into law by Governor Mike Pence last Thursday, making pretty much the entire country look at Indiana as a state of backward hateful bigots.

As a Hoosier myself (that means I’m an Indiana-nen), I’d like to state for the record that there are many many many many many many among us that bowed our heads in shame when we heard the news.

And since then, I’ve cringed more than I can remember cringing in my lifetime.  I cringed this weekend when I watched our Governor embarrassingly “defend” and “clarify” his decision to George Stephanopoulos. I cringed yesterday walking through the Detroit airport and passing CNN flashing the banner “Outrage over Indiana law.” I’ve cringed over and over again while scrolling through social media and news sites and seeing a growing legion of public figures, business leaders, sports figures, celebrities, and common folk express their outrage toward Indiana, some going so far as to call for a boycott of the entire state.

Which sucks, because I really do love this state. I was born and raised here. My husband and I made the choice to raise our children here. Indianapolis has gone to a concerted effort over the past several years to become an appealing city for sporting events, business conventions, casual travelers, foodies, comic book lovers, and more. It’s a really cool and exciting place to be.

And with one swipe of a pen, Governor Pence has potentially undone all of that.

Now, look—I’m not even going to try and get into an argument about what the RFRA law actually says or doesn’t say—people much smarter than me have already gone round and round in circles, and everyone has their own version of “right.”

I will just say this: the fact that major business leaders, public figures, government officials, and concerned citizens were waving wildly and shouting at the top of their lungs in the days leading up to last Thursday’s signing, saying “Hello?!?!?!? You look like a bunch of backward hateful bigots! This is a BAD. THING. A VERY VERY BAD THING!  So bad we might decide not to come to Indiana anymore!” should have, in my opinion, at least given the governor pause. Especially since so many of those that were shouting and waving were citizens of Indiana. Especially since major businesses threatened to take millions of dollars away from Indiana, some making good on that threat the moment the bill was signed. Especially since most of us understand the most important truth about reality, that perception is reality. Even if the bill doesn't say the things we think it says, the fact that we think it says them is really pretty important. But, instead he locked himself in his office and signed it in private.

I also won’t get into what could have been done to avoid this public outcry, because smarter people than me have also gone round and round about that, and everyone has their own version of “right.”

I will just say this: Governor Pence swears that this protection of religious freedom is a protection for people of all faith. But what about protection for those against whom those very same religions would persecute? Did the governor simultaneously sign a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity? Sure didn’t. In fact he went so far as to say that adding the LGBTQ community to “protected class” status was “not on his agenda.”

Oh, also, there is this little thing: Eric Miller, one of the few that were allowed in the room to stand behind Governor Pence as he signed this bill into law, and the founder of “Advance America,” says this on his website, right now:

Churches, Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women).  SB 101 will help provide the protection!

Here are just three examples where SB 101 will help:


Exclamation marks, much?

So, what is freedom, anyway? And who “deserves” it?

I guess I just wonder why is it so stinking hard to just listen to the Declaration of Independence, to the belief this country was allegedly founded upon yet never seems to be able to live up to?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

All. Men (People). Are. Created. Equal. Not “straight white conservative Christian men are created equal and everyone else falls in line somewhere behind.” All of us. All. 

Do I understand the lives of every person I encounter? Do I even agree with all of them? Of course not. It would be naïve and unrealistic to say otherwise. But the power of this country is that that diversity exists, and we all are better because of it. How beautiful to be able to live in a community that includes a mix of straight, gay, Christian, Muslim, atheist, purple-haired, tattooed, hamburger-loving, vegan, Buddhist, skinny, overweight, divorced, transgender, nose-pierced, nature loving, night owl, yogi, young, and old.

If I am not hurting you and you are not hurting me, then what is the big problem anyway?

So when we start putting up walls in the form of laws that say “yes, yes, of course we can all be part of this community blah-blah-blah, only just, well, WE are going to be a slightly more protected group than YOU over THERE you DIFFERENT ONE…” what are we doing but tearing through the very fabric of our democracy?

Freedom. It means “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” It also means “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.”

If I expect to have the freedom to live my life as I choose, then I need to honor that same right to everyone else. That’s kind of the whole point of freedom, no?

Country, please do not boycott Indiana. To boycott all of us is, in some ways, doing the very thing you would claim to be boycotting us for—you’d be discriminating against an entire state based on the principles of a few. Instead, please look past those that are leading this hateful charge… look around them and seek out the rest of us—the restaurant owners, the local businesses, the athletes, the performers, the families, the children—the rest of us who say We Choose LOVE. Please love us back.

What will you do with your freedom today?  



Interested in having Erika’s blog come directly to your e-mail each Tuesday? Have comments to share?  E-mail her at erika@tlpnyc.com.   Find all her previous blog posts at www.tlpnyc.com/author/erika


Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.