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Religious Freedom Controversy: Indiana Legislators Announce Changes to Law

Gov. Mike Pence asked legislators to revisit the law after a storm of criticism.
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/ Source: NBC News

The Republican leaders of the Indiana Legislature on Thursday unveiled a change to the state’s controversial religious freedom law spelling out that it does not allow businesses to refuse service to gays or other minority groups.

Brian Bosma, speaker of the state House, said that the language would make clear that “we value you — gay, straight, black, white, religious, nonreligious. We value each and every Hoosier.”

The language says that businesses may not use the law to refuse service to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or a range of other classifications, including race and religion.

Bosma and his counterpart in the state Senate said that they had secured the votes to pass the change later in the day.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, and state leaders faced intense criticism after enacting the law last week. Supporters said that it was meant to protect religious liberty, but opponents said that businesses could use it to deny service to gay customers.

Chris Douglas, the openly gay founding president of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that the revision was only a first step toward enshrining antidiscrimination protections for gays in Indiana law.

“We know that this is only the beginning,” he said. “The end is that the equality guaranteed to all other Hoosiers through the Indiana civil rights code is guaranteed also to us.”

Angie’s List, an Indiana company that had opposed the law, said the fix was not good enough:

Our position is that this "fix" is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That's just not right and that's the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.

Pence had asked the Legislature on Tuesday to “fix” the law by the end of the week. College basketball’s Final Four tips off in Indianapolis on Saturday night, and the NCAA was among the organizations speaking out against the law.

The NCAA issued a statement praising the changes:

We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against. NCAA core values call for an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory for our student-athletes, membership, fans, staff and their families. We look forward to the amended bill being passed quickly and signed into law expeditiously by the governor.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, another Republican, asked lawmakers to revise a similar bill to make sure it mirrors a federal religious freedom law passed in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton.

Legal experts have said that both the Indiana law and the Arkansas bill had broader language than the federal law and could have provided a wider opening for businesses to discriminate on religious grounds.


— Erin McClam