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Indiana Gov. to 'Fix' Religious Freedom Law This Week


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Religious Objections
Michael Conroy/APIndiana Gov. Mike Pence
By Fiona Ortiz

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence, responding to national outrage over the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said Tuesday he will "fix" it to make clear businesses cannot use the law to deny services to same-sex couples.

Pence, in a news conference, said the law he signed last week had been unfairly "smeared" but he called on the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly to come up with clarifications this week.

I believe it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.

"I believe it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone," he told reporters at a testy, nationally televised news conference in the state capital, Indianapolis.

Pence, who was brought up Catholic but is now an evangelical Christian, faced massive pressure from businesses over the bill, which passed with an overwhelming majority in the state's legislature.

Major companies including Walmart Stores (WMT), Apple (AAPL), Angie's List (ANGI), diesel engine-maker Cummins (CMI), Salesforce Marketing Cloud and drugmaker Eli Lilly (LLY) have called on him to clarify or repeal the law.

Rock band Wilco canceled a show in Indianapolis and Democratic governors from both coasts, joined Tuesday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, banned official travel to Indiana. Auto racing company NASCAR and the Indianapolis-based NCAA, an organization for university athletic programs, expressed concern over the law.

At the news conference Pence said the law protected people of all faiths from being forced by the government to go against their beliefs. He repeatedly denied that the intent of the law was to allow discrimination.

Critics said Indiana's law as it is now written would allow businesses to deny services such as wedding cakes or wedding music for gay marriages, on religious grounds.

Pence, a lawyer and one-time radio talk-show host, is seen as a moderate on education and healthcare issues. His is one of many Republican names that have come up as a possible presidential contender.

The Indiana governor found support from conservatives including Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz and possible presidential contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who all praised the law.

Everything You Wanted to Know About RFRA's

The federal government and 20 states have passed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, known as RFRAs, since the early 1990s. But Indiana's is the first enacted since gay marriage became legal in many states last year, and it has been seen by critics as a backlash against same-sex marriage.

Indiana's RFRA is also one of the first to adopt language from recent appeals court rulings and specifically allow individuals and companies to sue other individuals or companies on religious freedom grounds.

Earlier RFRA's mostly gave individuals recourse to sue government entities they claim are infringing on their First Amendment right of free exercise of religion.

For instance, using an RFRA lawsuit, a Muslim man won the right to not shave his beard while incarcerated and Amish have challenged compulsory school attendance rules.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana under an appeals court ruling last year.

Jim Bennett, Midwest director for LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, said the business uproar had forced Pence to make changes after he pushed the law through quickly and refused to discuss possible balances to protect same-sex couples.

"He did not want to have a discussion. Fortunately for Indiana and the country, the business community and all the people demanded that that discussion take place," Bennett said.

Lori Windham, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has brought RFRA cases on behalf of people of different faiths, said the clarification shouldn't be necessary.

"It should already be clear that these laws require courts to balance religious freedom against other interests. They don't mean religion always wins, they mean that religious people have their day in court," she said.

The controversy over Indiana's law appeared to stall Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in the legislatures in Georgia and North Carolina.

In Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he will sign into a law an RFRA that is expected to move to his desk from the legislature this week. But he may face similar pressures as Pence.

On Tuesday the Democratic mayor of Little Rock said the law was too divisive and asked Hutchinson to veto it.

-With reporting by by Mary Wisniewski and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Emily Stephenson and Susan Heavey in Washington, D.C.; and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


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