Indiana Gov. Mike Pence scrambles to 'clarify' new religious freedom law
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been under fire for the ‘religious freedom’ law he signed, which critics say is discriminatory – especially against gay people. Now, Gov. Pence says he wants to legislatively ‘clarify the intent’ of the law.
Faced with a wave of critical comment and mounting economic threats from around the country, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) says he wants to legislatively “clarify the intent” of his state’s new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
The law allows businesses to refuse service to potential customers and clients on religious grounds, which critics say is a clear shot at the LGBT community – in particular those advocating or wanting to participate in same-sex marriage.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Gov. Pence did not detail his legislative plans for the new law, other than to indicate that any changes wouldn’t be sweeping. Making gay and lesbian Hoosiers a protected legal class, Pence said, is “not on my agenda.”
Since he signed the law last week, the Republican governor has faced a rolling wave of opposition, not only from civil rights groups but – potentially more damaging – from major corporations doing business in the state.
The list includes Apple and Wal-Mart as well the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (who’s a Republican) and major local employers, including Alcoa, Cummins, Eli Lilly & Co., and Salesforce.
The business-rating website Angie’s List (which is headquartered in Indianapolis) joined that growing crowd Saturday. CEO Bill Oesterle said he’s “putting on hold” the planned expansion of company facilities in Indiana “until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future.”
"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents,” Mr. Oesterle said in a statement. The company’s $40 million campus expansion reportedly would add 1,000 jobs over five years.
Sports figures and enterprises have been weighing in as well.
Herb Simon, owner of the NBA Indiana Pacers and the WNBA Indiana Fever, says his teams “have the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis.”
“Everyone is always welcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” Mr. Simon said in a statement. “That has always been the policy from the very beginning of the Simon family's involvement and it always will be.”
“Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me,” former NBA star and now TV commentator Charles Barkley said through his agent. “As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities.”
Indiana’s new law comes just as the Indianapolis-based NCAA holds its final four men’s basketball tournament in that city. NCAA officials are clear in their opposition to the law, hinting that it might mean serious consequences for the organization’s relationship with Indiana.
“We intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.
Gov. Pence and other supporters of Indiana’s new religious freedom law point out that it is similar to laws in 19 other states as well as a federal law signed by former President Clinton 22 years ago.
Such laws – other states are considering them as well – typically require state government to have a “compelling interest” before it can “substantially burden” personal religious practice.
The gay rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) warns that such laws “are often incredibly vague and light on details – usually intentionally.”
“The evangelical owner of a business providing a secular service can sue claiming that their personal faith empowers them to refuse to hire Jews, divorcees, or LGBT people,” HRC says in a report. “A landlord could claim the right to refuse to rent an apartment to a Muslim or a transgender person.”
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Pence would not directly address such hypothetical questions, instead emphasizing that “tolerance is a two-way street” – including tolerance for religious beliefs. And he stood up for his fellow Hoosiers.
“There are no kinder, more generous, more welcoming, more hospitable people in America than in the 92 counties of Indiana,” he said. “And yet we simply stepped forward for the purpose of recognizing the religious liberty rights of all the people of Indiana of every faith. We’ve suffered under this avalanche for the last several days, and it’s completely not based on any fact whatsoever.”