Wednesday, April 1, 2015 – Indianapolis

Indiana Governor Michael Pence leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers together, and smiled. On his gubernatorial desk, arranged carefully, one suspected, near a copy of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act he signed last Thursday, was a framed 5 x 7 photograph, a candid shot, depicting the ruddy-complected Pence hoisting aloft the bride-bearing chair during a traditional Jewish wedding Hora, or chair dance. Nodding at the photo, Pence remarked casually, “Hava Nagila! Of course, what the photo doesn’t show is that this was actually a Jewish and Wiccan wedding. I’m told the goat was kosher, as well as slaughtered under the light of a full moon.”

Pence laughed and laughed. “Tolerance of religion,” he said, “is extremely important to me. Obviously it must be, if I’m willing to sacrifice millions of dollars in tax revenue as well as the economic health of the state whose interests I’m pledged to serve.” He laughed some more. “You’ve got to keep your sense of humor,” he quipped. “Otherwise you’d just look like an asshole.”

Pence was eager to comment, as well, on the recent passage of a similar religious freedom bill (or RFRA) by the Arkansas state legislature. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he intends to sign it. “Do I take this as a challenge?” Pence asked. “Absolutely I do. Indiana has a long history of tolerance, going back to the naming of the territory itself. While we weren’t able to let the native population keep their land, we were determined to name it after them. What you realize is that when it comes to tolerance, compromise is key. That, and winning.

“So, no, we’re not going to take this lying down. While I don’t believe that the bill I signed could be made to be any more tolerant of religious freedom, I know there’s plenty I can do, personally, to advance the cause and ensure that Indiana, not Arkansas, has the reputation of being the most tolerant state—religious-freedom-wise—in the nation. That’s why I was confident enough to make the wager.”

In a phone call described by both governors as being “jocular” and “heartfelt,” a friendly bet was arranged as to which governor can display the greatest religious tolerance over the next six months. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case, will judge the bet.

Governor Hutchinson was quick out of the gate on Tuesday evening, performing the decapitation of a Jersey Giant at a Santeria initiation ceremony in Little Rock before hopping a chartered flight to Fayetteville to take peyote in a pop-up sweat lodge.

Not to be outdone, Governor Pence fired back this morning by donning a hair shirt, saffron robes, and, most controversially, a Patriots jersey. “Being a Patriots fan may not be strictly a weird religion,” Pence joked. “But it sure seems crazy enough.”

At this point, the Governor excused himself to greet visitors from a Kosciusko County sect known as the Bee Polishers. They were to perform their sacred bee polishing ceremony in the governor’s office, an annual spring ritual meant to coincide with the appearance of the season’s earliest perennials.

Pence looked on while members of the sect, clothed in periwinkle bee-handling garb, set up the ceremonial hives. He appeared fascinated by the preparations, handling the sacred golden bellows and asking questions of Edlemeyer Salt, the group’s leader, who looked on.

“As far as orientation,” Pence asked, “of the bees involved, they’re all…well…straight, right? I don’t have anything personal against the other bees per se, but I can’t say I approve of their choices. And my religious beliefs prohibit me from having anything to do with ceremonies involving gay bees.”

Salt, lowering the veil on his bee-handling hat, chuckled nervously and declined to answer the question.

As the ceremony got underway and the handlers began brushing the wax onto the gently buzzing bees with milkweed seeds, Pence seemed certain that he would come out ahead in his wager with the Arkansas governor.

“I am looking forward to winning,” he said. “And when I do, Hutchinson has to buy me a shrimp cocktail at Elmo’s.”

Asked what the outcome would be if, by chance, he loses, Pence frowned. “Because there’s no way it’s going to happen, I agreed to be thrown naked into an icy Arkansas lake. But again—won’t happen.”

He smiled, displaying the steely resolve that has earned him respect and adulation the world over for his principled stands and straight-shooting talk. “And anyway,” he added, “I got my way on the most important thing. I get to choose the lake.”

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Robin Beery lives in Indianapolis and is a writer/producer at Well Done Marketing.

Photo by USGS (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABee_species_wide_face%2C_m%2C_brazil%2C_face_2014-08-08-12.15.52_ZS_PMax_(15631226174).jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.