INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The governor of Indiana is defending his signing of the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating that it is has been “grossly misconstrued” and made to be an issue about discrimination against homosexuals when the bill mentions nothing about homosexuality or any issue at all.
As previously reported, Gov. Mike Pence signed SB 101 into law in a closed ceremony, with an estimated 70 t0 80 invited guests attending the event. The bill mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in the 1990’s by then-President Bill Clinton.
“A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” it reads.
After signing the legislation last week, Pence cited the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby abortion pill case, and noted that while a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act exists, the law does not cover state action.
“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 states [who have passed local legislation] and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.”
However, homosexual activists and advocates soon rose up against Pence, asserting that the bill made provision for Christians and others to discriminate against homosexuals. On Saturday, hundreds rallied outside of the Indiana state house in opposition to the law, and op-eds quickly were published online decrying the Act as being bigoted.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) even announced that he was banning state-funded travel to Indiana, as did Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D). The mayors of San Francisco and Seattle, Ed Lee and Ed Murray, have done the same, and a number of corporate business executives also spoke out against the measure and called for boycotts.
“Washington will join other states and cities in opposing this law and I will impose an administration-wide ban on state funded travel to Indiana,” Inslee said in a statement. “We in Washington stand for equality.”
Homosexual advocates assert that the bill could be used to allow Christian photographers, bakers, florists and other wedding-related businesses to decline involvement in same-sex ceremonies, and do not believe that religious entities should have the right to decline an order because of their convictions.
However, others have rather noted that the law could protect Christians and Catholics from being made subject to any government action that might mandate involvement in abortion, or could provide religious freedom for Jews, Muslims and others from being restricted from practicing their faith, such as wearing headscarves or serving pork.
Pence has therefore been making the rounds on various media outlets to clarify that the bill does not pertain to homosexuality.
“I stand by this law, but I understand that the way that some on the left and frankly, some in the national media, have mischaracterized this law over the last week might make it necessary for us to clarify the law through legislation,” he told Fox News.
“Our new law has been grossly misconstrued as a ‘license to discriminate.’ That isn’t true,” Pence further outlined in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Tuesday.
“With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states,” he reiterated. “To ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year the General Assembly enshrined these principles in Indiana law. I fully supported that action.”
Pence repeated that the law does not contain any language regarding homosexuality.
“If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore,” he wrote. “As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.”
Pence is a professing Christian and attends Community Church in Greenwood, Ind.