Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Updated: Pence Signs Indiana Religious Freedom Act

BY BTL STAFF

UPDATE Gov. Pence said that he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week that would clarify that the Indiana RFRA bill does not allow for discrimination against any minority.

In a press conference held at 11 a.m. April 1 Pence said "After much reflection and in consultation with leadership in the General Assembly, I've come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."

In a press conference held on March 31, White House spokesman Josh Earnest disputed Pence's claim that the Indiana RFRA bill is similar to the 1993 federal religious protections bill. Earnest said that the Indiana bill is broader than the bill signed by Clinton over two decades ago and while both laws say there has to be a compelling government interest to burden someone's guarantee under the First Amendment to freely exercise his or her religion the Indiana bill allows the law to be invoked in disputes between private citizens; something the federal bill does not include.

Which means that this is a much more open-ended piece of legislation that could reasonably be used to try to justify discriminating against somebody because of who they love," Earnest said.

A new bill, introduced April 1 by House Republicans specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against residents based on their sexual orientation but does not establish gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes within state law.

The updated language is at the center of discussions between Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Senate President Pro Tempore David Long and Indiana business leaders, all collaborating in the midst of the nationwide coverage and negative attention that succeeded after Pence signed the bill.

Any deal must be vetted through the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate. Meetings were scheduled for noon April 1.

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed SB101 March 26, which was authored with the intent of ensuring that the government cannot force a citizen to violate their religious beliefs.

In spite of overwhelming opposition from corporations, civil rights advocates and major convention organizers, Pence signed in to law a sweeping bill that will allow individuals to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community and minorities.

"The timing of this legislation is important to understanding its intent: The bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana," said Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana. "We are deeply disappointed that the governor and state lawmakers have been tone-deaf to the cries of legions of Hoosiers -- including businesses, convention leaders, faith communities and more than 10,000 people who signed petitions against the bill -- who say they don't want this harmful legislation to impair the reputation of our state and harm our ability to attract the best and brightest to Indiana."

SB101 is modeled after Arizona's SB1062 that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last year following strong opposition from the local and national business communities. In response to Gov. Pence's public support of the bill, widespread discontent was voiced by business and faith communities: Indianapolis Colts player Pat McAfee, Salesforce, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the first openly gay NBA player Jason Collins. The organizers of GenCon, a weekend long convention centered around gaming culture and pulp fiction, have threatened to relocate to another state due to the law.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, a $4 billion software giant known for its customer relationship management applications, has already noted that they are now forced to dramatically reduce investment in the state because of outrage from employees and customers over the new law; they are canceling all programs that require customers and employees to travel to Indiana.

"We have been an active member of the Indiana business community and a key job creator for more than a decade," Scott McCorkle, CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud division, wrote in a letter to Indiana lawmakers. "Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Without an open business environment that welcomes all residents and visitors, Salesforce will be unable to continue building on its tradition of marketing innovation in Indianapolis."

The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and just a year after Pence and other conservative lawmakers in the state lost their first policy battle against LGBT supportive Hoosiers. Last year, a highly-organized coalition of Democrats and LGBT supporters defeated a ban that sought to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages. However, this year the GOP controls both the state House and Senate, which approved the "religious freedom" bill almost entirely on party lines.

"This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it," Pence said in a statement. "In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation's anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana."

Indystar News reported that Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana, was present for the signing ceremony that occurred just before 10 a.m. and was quoted, "They said it may have been one of the biggest bill signings they ever had."

The AFA was the author of Michigan's same-sex marriage ban that passed by a 59 percent majority in 2004. Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan chapter of the AFA, was elected into public office in November serving as state House Rep. for Midland, beating out Democrat and LGBT supporter Joan Brausch.

Indiana, like Michigan, does not have amendments on the books prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Many counties do, and opponents of the "religious freedom law" say they're worried the new measure will be used to allow businesses to get around those local rules.

Since Jan., 22 different RFRA bills have been introduced into state legislatures. Michigan is one of 13 states with proposed RFRA bills, according to the ACLU. The Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act was introduced in the lame duck congressional session last year as an attempt by Republican lawmakers to protect "religious freedom." However, once the 2015 legislative cycle began, Republican lawmakers began introducing a stream of religious freedom measures. The Michigan bill is currently sitting in a state Senate committee.


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