Cuomo's Indiana travel ban hits UB

Indiana Tennis game canceled, softball game moved to Ohio

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order banning state-funded travel to Indiana affected UB Wednesday, when the school announced it not only backed the governor, but also wouldn’t send its sports teams to play Ball State in Indiana.

The softball team and women’s tennis team won’t play Ball State in Muncie, Indiana this weekend due to Cuomo’s stance on Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The law – as it stood before an amendment was added Thursday night – could potentially allow for businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Cuomo announced the ban Tuesday, which prohibits all non-essential, state-funded travel from New York to Indiana in protest.

The order started a conversation across the country, including at UB, which was caught in the center of controversy with the sports teams’ travel bans. As a state school, UB’s Athletics program has a state budget in addition to money it has collected from donations.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed an amendment to the bill on Thursday evening that forbids “providers” from refusing services to anyone based on sexual orientation, as well as “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity or military service.” But as of Thursday evening, Cuomo hadn’t repealed his order. While some liberal critics say the new version isn’t truly a fix, some conservatives see the changes as unnecessary. Indiana’s House Committee debated the amendment for hours; GOP members wanted the fix, while Democrats wanted to repeal the bill and start over.

The women’s tennis match scheduled at Ball State for Friday was canceled on Thursday afternoon, while the softball team is playing at Miami Ohio's campus Saturday after spending most the week looking for a neutral location. The softball team already had a game scheduled in Ohio Friday. UB Athletics declined comment and would not make any players or coaches available for interviews, but released a written statement. Ball State Athletics also declined comment.

Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law on March 26. The law stated Indiana cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it is to further a compelling government interest. Some worried this would allow business owners to discriminate and deny services to gay, lesbian and bisexual customers if they claim homosexuality goes against their religion. Supporters of the law said it is meant to protect religious freedom.

“It bans people’s basic human rights for people that live in Indiana,” said Paris Canty, a senior psychology major and UB’s LGBTA president, Thursday afternoon. “Now, people may not be able to go to their favorite places anymore. And it’s just awful.”

Both President Satish K. Tripathi and UB Athletics released a statement saying all UB students and faculty “are prohibited from conducting state-funded or state-sponsored travel to the state of Indiana.” This includes the travel of both teams this weekend and all sports programs until the ban is lifted. This means Athletic Director Danny White will be unable to attend the NCAA Final Four in Indiana on what would normally be a state-funded trip.

Tripathi said the university shares the governor’s “conviction that the exercise of religious freedom should not be a justification for discrimination based upon sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other protected classes.”

“The University at Buffalo is committed to fostering an academic community characterized by the respectful, fair, and equitable treatment of all its members,” Tripathi said in the release.

Andrew Baumgartner, a senior nuclear medicine and psychology major and UB LGBTA treasurer, said he supports Cuomo’s order and UB’s solidarity with the stance.

“The school’s support of LGBT rights is deeper than just following the rules and regulations of New York State,” Baumgartner said. “They genuinely care about the well-being of our community in UB and on a national level.”

Canty said church and state should always be separated.

“I believe this country had one of the founding principles of church and state,” Canty said. “That’s being challenged right now. These are businesses. It’s through the state. It shouldn’t be a question of religious affiliation. You’re selling a product, you receive something in return and the customer receives service.”

Baumgartner said Pence might genuinely believe the law is to protect people’s religions. But Baumgartner said he doesn’t think it’s fair to the business owners in Indiana and said Pence’s views can “justify the subsequent oppression and marginalization” of businesses.

Memories Pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana, was the first Indiana business to publicly deny same-sex service. Memories Pizzeria refused to cater a same-sex wedding this past weekend and did not answer The Spectrum’s phone calls on Thursday.

Arkansas’ state legislature also passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign the original bill but signed a revised bill Thursday with language that prohibits business owners from using the law to refuse to serve the LGBT community.

“I feel that it seems … that every time we take a step forward with marriage equality or LGBT-related rights, somewhere in the country we wind up taking a step back,” Baumgartner said. “It’s very disheartening.”

This article has been updated to include the softball team's game to be played in Ohio. 

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com