INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's economic and tourism development agencies hired a public relations firm Monday to repair the damage to the state's reputation from a religious objections law that raised the specter of discrimination against gays and others.
Meanwhile, the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which had canceled conventions in Indianapolis amid the national controversy over the law, said it was bringing its meeting back to the city now that Republican Gov. Mike Pence has signed amendments to the statute that satisfied its concerns.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced Monday it was collaborating with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development in hiring the Porter Novelli firm to strengthen Indiana's reputation "as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business."
Amid the uproar over the Republican-backed law that many feared would allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, two groups canceled Indianapolis conventions and two others considered doing so. Fort Wayne, the state's second-largest city, had six national conventions express concerns about continuing business in Indiana, local officials said.0
The IEDC news release did not mention the law known formally as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but the reason for hiring the firm was made clear in an email sent by the tourism office's communications director, Jake Oakman, to local tourism officials. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the email.
"The Indiana Office of Tourism Development is partnering with the IEDC on this initiative to restore Indiana's image after the recent political controversy surrounding RFRA," Oakman wrote.
Indiana Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said his committee last week added $1 million to tourism funding in the pending two-year state budget specifically for that purpose.
The IEDC has signed an initial letter of engagement with Porter Novelli to define the scope of work and develop a budget for the project, the agency said.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, used the IEDC announcement to renew a call to amend Indiana's Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The actions announced today by the IEDC are an admission by the governor that more must be done to clean up the mess ... created with RFRA," Lanane said.
The General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) announced Monday that the amendments signed into law on April 2 addressed its concerns and it has selected Indianapolis for its 2017 General Assembly after earlier pulling the meeting from the city.
The Indianapolis-based denomination's general minister and president, Sharon Watkins, said "there is a newly invigorated statewide understanding that Indiana needs improved laws and ordinances protecting all people from discrimination."
"Locating our assembly in Indianapolis, now that our concerns have been addressed, positions us more strongly as a moral voice in the movement for equal protection under the law for all," Watkins said.