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Indiana, Arkansas Pass Revised Religious Freedom Bills

Indiana's governor signed a bill to clarify its law after critics assailed it, and Arkansas passed a bill that was revised over discrimination fears.
/ Source: NBC News

Indiana’s governor on Thursday signed a bill to clarify a "religious freedom" bill that sparked a blistering wave of criticism and boycotts, while Arkansas’ governor signed a similar bill that had been revised over concerns about discrimination.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill that makes clear the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not allow businesses to refuse to serve gays or other minority groups.

"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," Pence said in a statement Thursday evening.

Several state governments barred nonessential official travel to Indiana after the bill was passed, and Indiana-based Angie’s List announced it would cancel a planned expansion in Indianapolis over the legislation. The country’s largest union of public employees, AFSCME, announced it was moving an October conference out of the state’s capital.

Pence said Thursday that the law "has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation."

"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?,'" Pence said. "I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana."

The group Freedom Indiana, which has campaigned against the bill, said in a statement that "We won the battle today, but we haven't won the war."

"But with or without today’s RFRA change, discrimination is legal under Indiana law," the group said. "Each and every day, far too many LGBT Hoosiers fear they will lose their jobs or be denied housing, simply because of who they are."

Earlier Thursday in Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed that state’s bill after ordering that it be changed to more closely reflect federal law a day before.

Critics said the earlier bill opened the door to businesses refusing to serve gay customers. Mega-retailer Walmart and Hutchinson’s son were among those who opposed the earlier bill.

"I know it’s been a contentious debate," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. "We resolved it in an Arkansas way and in the right way for our country and for the people of Arkansas."

Asked about some critics who feel the new bill doesn’t go far enough to protect against discrimination, Hutchinson said, "The debate goes on. But the fact that it might not solve every problem for everyone probably means it’s a good bill."


— Phil Helsel