Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended his state’s new religious freedom law March 29 while refusing to say if it would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Facing a rising tide of criticism and business boycotts against his state, Pence said he would consider a second law that “amplifies and clarifies” the first one but added, “We’re not going to change the law.”
“We have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation, and it’s completely baseless,” Pence said on ABC’s This Week.
“This isn’t about disputes between individuals. It’s about government overreach. I’m working hard to clarify this. We’re reaching out to business leaders.”
The law Pence signed Thursday prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion — unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive way to achieve it. It takes effect July 1.
On March 28, thousands of people gathered in downtown Indianapolis to protest the law that critics say could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. And business leaders have balked, led by Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, which put off a planned $40 million expansion.
The governor’s effort to quell the firestorm over the state’s religious freedom restoration act did little to mollify gay rights organizations convinced that the law would allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians.
“Governor Pence’s calls for a clarification of this destructive bill are phony unless the legislation guarantees explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers and includes a clear civil rights carve-out,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on ABC that the law “appears to legitimize discrimination” despite Pence’s claims that it is modeled after laws signed by President Clinton at the federal level in 1993 and supported by then-state senator Barack Obama in Illinois.
“If you have to go back two decades to try to justify something you are doing today, it may raise some questions about the wisdom of what you’re doing,” Earnest said.
“Governor Pence is in damage control mode this morning, and he’s got some damage to fix.”