INDIANAPOLIS — The governor of Indiana signed the state “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law on Thursday, resisting critics who asserted that the legislation would allow people of faith to “discriminate” against homosexuals.
Gov. Mike Pence signed SB 101 into law in a closed ceremony, with an estimated 70 t0 80 invited guests attending the event.
“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” he said in a statement. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”
The bill mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in the 1990’s by then-President Bill Clinton. The legislation prohibits the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion,” unless there is a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means is used in furthering the interest.
Pence noted that while the federal government provides religious freedom protections, some states do not.
“Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action,” he said. “In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states [who have passed local legislation] and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.”
States that have preceded Indiana in passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act include Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut.
While some have stated that the bill will open the door for discrimination against homosexuals, Pence refuted such claims as the law mentions nothing about homosexuality or any particular issue at all.
“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved,” he said. “For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”
“Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change,” Pence stated. “Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith.”
Pence is a professing Christian and attends Community Church in Greenwood, Ind.