Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., signed the promised “fix” to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on Thursday. As reported by Western Journalism, Pence had called on the Indiana legislature to have something on his desk by the end of this week–and the members complied.
In a statement, Gov. Pence said:
There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, ‘What is best for Indiana?’ I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.
Our state is rightly celebrated for our pro-business environment, and we enjoy an international reputation for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance and kindness of our people. Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan; it is our way of life. Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.
In a joint news conference earlier today, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro-Tem David Long, with business and civic leaders standing behind them, announced the changes to the new RFRA law, which had put the state in the crosshairs of corporations and others organizations that believed the law could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The “fix” passed the Indiana House 66-30 and the Senate 34-16. Bosma restated words Gov. Pence used Monday, saying that “Indiana is open for business.”
The RFRA law grants the opportunity to seek relief in court if an action taken by state or local governments “substantially burdens” a person’s ability to engage in the free exercise of religion. Even if the court determines a substantial burden exists, if the government can show it has a “compelling interest” and the action taken is the “least restrictive” means to achieve it, the free exercise of religion defense will have to give way.
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The new language specifically denies businesses or individuals any legal recourse or defense if, even for deeply held religious reasons, they “refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, goods, employment, housing or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”
As reported by Breitbart, legal scholar Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund and Catholic University School of Law notes that the lack of a legal defense for businesses and individuals applies not just tocivil actions but also against “criminal prosecution.”
The new provision still allows churches, religious organizations, and individual members of the clergy to raise a defense in court under RFRA if they do not wish to provide their services due to their religious beliefs.
Ryan Anderson, with the Heritage Foundation, and Tony Perkins, with the Family Research Council, both voiced their opposition to the new changes.
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Anderson, who has appeared on many news outlets discussing the issue over the last week, writes that the fix “eliminates any balancing test for sexual liberty and religious liberty. It says sexual orientation should trump religious liberty. That’s bad policy.”
Perkins said earlier today regarding the changes to the RFRA:
On the eve of Good Friday, Big Business is encouraging elected leaders to take the silver over religious freedom. This new proposal guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and empowers the government to impose punishing fines on people for following their beliefs about marriage.
Photo credit: InventYour Future (Flickr)