On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence called on Indiana’s legislature to ‘fix’ the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) by the end of the week. Since RFRA became law last Thursday, the governor and the Indiana legislature have been under intense scrutiny for supporting the measure, which many have characterized as allowing discrimination against gays or lesbians.
Pence tried to quell these concerns in a statement following his signing of the bill into law last week, stating, “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.” He pointed out that 19 other states have RFRA laws, and that 11 more have it, in effect, through court rulings.
The law requires a balancing test if an action taken by state or local governments “substantially burdens” someone’s ability to engage in the free exercise of religion. If so, the government must demonstrate that it has a “compelling interest,” and that the government action in question is the “least restrictive” means to accomplish that interest.
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At a press conference Tuesday, Pence took a contrite tone in his opening remarks, saying, “It’s been a tough week here in the Hoosier State, but we’re going to move forward…” He defended the intent of the law. “I was proud to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week. I believe religious liberty — as President Clinton said when he signed the federal law in 1993, I believe religious liberty is our first freedom, and it is vital to millions of Americans who cherish faith, as I and my family do.”
The governor went on to state that because of a “perception problem” created by Indiana’s RFRA, which mirrors the federal law, it was going to need a “fix.” He said, “I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate or right to deny services to gays, lesbians or anyone else in this state. And it certainly wasn’t my intent.”
Pence called on the Indiana legislature to have something on his desk by the end of the week, adding language to the RFRA “that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”
Pence made multiples references to the business community throughout his brief remarks and in responding to press queries afterwards. He spoke of “talking to business leaders” and wanting to let everyone know that “Indiana is open for business,” which indicated the public censure by major corporations and organizations like Apple, Marriott International, Levi Strauss and Gap, Salesforce, Angie’s List, and the NCAA may have, in the end, prompted his actions today. He sent the following tweet early Tuesday morning:
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Family Research Council President Tony Perkins captured the sentiment expressed by many social conservatives when he urged the governor and Indiana legislature not to cave to public pressure at the expense of religious freedom while seeking to “fix” the law. In a statement, he said:
RFRAs are not intended to nor have they ever been used to deny anyone non-religious goods or services [like eating at a restaurant or staying at a hotel]. We support such a clarification making clear RFRA does not impact non-religious goods or services.
The government shouldn’t force religious businesses and churches to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs. If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control. We want to be sure that the measure proposed by the governor isn’t used as a weapon to impose punishing fines on people [like florists or photographers.]