Lawmakers Will Push for Update to 'Religious Freedom' Law

Monday, March 30, 2015

Indiana's top two Republican legislators will push for an update to the state's controversial "religious freedom" law, the pair said at a news conference today following a wave of national backlash to the state's newest law.

"Hopefully by doing this we'll put the whole issue to rest," Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long told reporters at the State Capitol.

Major corporations, athletes, celebrities and gay-rights activists have lambasted the state's legislature and governor for enacting Senate Bill 101, a "religious freedom" law that states government must clear a higher threshold when enforcing laws that contradict citizens' or corporations' religious beliefs.

Both socially conservative advocates of the bill and pro-gay-rights opponents have said the bill could allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians based on their sexual preference. A Christian wedding photographer, for instance, could refuse to photograph a gay wedding by claiming it violated his or her religious beliefs, activists on both sides have said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill last week, stating in a press conference after he signed it that the law was not meant to promote discrimination.

Indiana State House Speaker Brian Bosma today clarified that the bill was not intended to do that. Bosma called it a "misconception" that the law "allows the denial of services to any Hoosier. It doesn't do that."

Bosma and Long said they will "encourage" their legislative colleagues to pass an update to the bill in the four remaining weeks of their legislative session to specifically address that issue, saying both sides -- supporters and critics alike -- have mischaracterized what the bill would mean for gays and lesbians.

That question has been unclear since Pence signed it into law. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Pence repeatedly dodged specific questions on whether the bill could mean denial of services for gays and lesbians, if companies claimed religious grounds for doing so. Pence repeatedly stated the bill was not about discrimination and had been mischaracterized.

Long and Bosma criticized Pence and said his ABC interview prompted them to call the press conference.

Pence "did not answer questions clearly" in that interview, Bosma said. Pointing to their interpretation that the law will not mean denial of services, Long said, of Pence, "It would've been helpful if he said that yesterday."

Major groups and corporations from Apple to Angie's List to the NCAA and the NBA have released statements expressing a range of "concern" and condemnation of the law. Social conservatives like Bob Vander Plaats of the influential Iowa-based group FAMiLY Leader have praised Pence and the law.

The fallout over SB 101 also hangs over the 2016 presidential race, as Pence has said he's considering a run for the GOP nomination and will reportedly finalize his decision sometime this spring.

Similar laws are on the books in other states, including neighboring Illinois. A similar federal law was signed by president Bill Clinton.

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