Indiana Governor, Lawmakers Promise to Clarify Religious Freedom Law

After a week of backlash and widespread criticism over the state’s newly signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, including from groups representing associations and the meetings industry, Indiana lawmakers vowed to revise the measure to make it clear that it does not create a “license to discriminate.”

Amid mounting pressure from the public and businesses around the country, changes are coming to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act only a week after Gov. Mike Pence signed it into law.

Laws that permit discrimination are not only regressive, they … send a harmful message that fairness, equality, and the principles of our Constitution are secondary to personal prejudice.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Pence aggressively stood by the RFRA but admitted that there is a perception problem that needs to be fixed. He shouldered the blame for not explaining the law better but blasted the media for conducting what he called a “smear campaign.”

“This law does not give anyone the right to discriminate,” he said. However, “after much reflection and in consultation with the leadership of the general assembly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.”

What that clarification will look like is still being discussed by Indiana state legislators, but Pence requested that the new language be on his desk by the end of the week.

Pence appeared on several news programs throughout the day and published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday morning aimed at clarifying the law’s intent.

“RFRA only provides a mechanism to address claims [in a court of law],” he wrote. “Even a claim involving private individuals under RFRA must show that one’s religious beliefs were ‘substantially burdened’ and not in service to a broader government interest—which preventing discrimination certainly is. The government has the explicit power under the law to step in and defend such interests.”

The decision to amend the language in RFRA came after a difficult week for Pence and the state of Indiana. The potential fallout for business in the state is only just starting to be felt.

Everyone from the NCAA—which is hosting the Final Four in Indianapolis this weekend—to Apple CEO Tim Cook to the Convention Industry Council weighed in on the issue. Elsewhere, Indy-based ecommerce website Angie’s List pulled plans to expand its campus, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray prohibited the use of city funds for travel to Indiana, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees announced it will move its upcoming Women’s Conference out of the state. And nine CEOs from top, in-state businesses cosigned a letter sent to Indiana lawmakers that called on them to amend the law.

On Monday, ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, sent a letter to Gov. Pence and the majority and minority leaders of Indiana’s House and Senate asking them to adopt corrective language with a clear civil rights carve-out.

“Laws that permit discrimination are not only regressive, they put our members at risk of being denied service anywhere from restaurants to meeting and convention facilities, and send a harmful message that fairness, equality, and the principles of our Constitution are secondary to personal prejudice,” Graham wrote. “ASAE has many members, industry partners, and vendors in Indiana and is concerned that the measure adopted could create an unwelcoming environment for some residents and visitors to the state.”

Pence addressed that concern during his press conference.

“We want to make it clear that ‘Hoosier hospitality’ is not a slogan, it’s our way of life,” he said. “Hoosiers are a loving, kind, generous, decent, and kind people… We will fix this, and we will move forward.”

Update: On April 2, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a revised bill containing language clarifying that the law cannot be used to justify discrimination or denial of services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, shown at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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