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NCAA, CEOs, Unions Deeply Concerned Over Indiana Religious Freedom Law

"Our core values are built around notions of diversity and inclusion," said NCAA President Mark Emmert.
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/ Source: NBC News

Days before the Final Four tips off in Indianapolis, the head of the NCAA told NBC News on Monday that he is "deeply concerned" about an Indiana law that opponents say could be used to justify anti-gay discrimination.

"Our core values are built around notions of diversity and inclusion," NCAA President Mark Emmert said. "And anything that might create an environment within which we can't maximize those values is something that we take very, very seriously."

The law, signed last week by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, says that the state cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless it is furthering a "compelling government interest" and acting in the least restrictive way possible.

Opponents say that businesses could use it as a legal loophole to refuse service to gay customers or otherwise discriminate against people on religious grounds.

Public figures ranging from business leaders to celebrities have condemned the law.

On Monday, the chief executives of nine major Indiana-based companies — including Angie's List, Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Eli Lilly and Co. and Roche Diagnostics — sent a letter to Pence and other state leaders saying they were concerned not only for their employees but also for "the reputation of our state."

AFSCME, the country's largest public-employee union, also said it would move a conference out of Indianapolis, while Connecticut suspended government travel to Indiana. And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned state officials from traveling to Indiana.

Meanwhile, the Association of Flight Attendants, the world's largest flight attendants' union, released a strongly worded statement saying it would "relentlessly battle the hate spewing from the Governor's office in Indiana."

Republican state lawmakers have insisted that the law is not meant to sanction discrimination, and they pledged a quick rewrite to clarify it.

The Final Four, college basketball's premier event, begins in Indy on Saturday night. Emmert hinted in a statement last week that the law would lead the NCAA to reconsider future events in Indiana.

Emmert told NBC News that he doesn't want the furor over the law to be a distraction for players.

"On the other hand," he said, "the issues of diversity and inclusion are very, very serious topics for us for society."



— Erin McClam