Update (4/2/2015 10:31 a.m.): The Associated Pressreports Indiana’s GOP legislators have proposed a fix to the RFRA that would prohibit “service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.”
By Michael Nam
Gov. Mike Pence, who signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), has been under a deluge of negative responses since the bill became law. The Indiana governor continues to insist that the act is non-discriminatory despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary.
When asked point blank by George Stephanopoulos on ‘This Week’ if the law would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals, Gov. Pence initially evaded the question, repeatedly stating that it’s just about religious liberty
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana does not give anyone the right to deny services to anyone in this state,” said Pence in his press conference days after the ABC interview, saying what he refused to sayhis previous interview. “It is simply a balancing test used by our federal courts and jurisdictions across the country for more than two decades.”
Despite his declaration, the backlash against the law and the state of Indiana is only gaining strength. The governor and the GOP-led Indiana legislature have started talking about clarification and adding new legislation based on the opposition’s “misunderstanding” and “mischaracterization” of the law.
Indiana’s government needs to overcome a great deal of skepticism on that score. The organization Lambda Legal breaks down the talking points of the pro-RFRA side as being misleading.
Claiming that the RFRA is the same as an Illinois law that then-State Senator Barack Obama supported, Gov. Pence “fails to point out that Illinois has a robust, statewide Human Rights Act that specifically protects LGBT people just as it protects others in Illinois. Indiana does not.”
When Gov. Pence states that the legislation just “reinforces established Indiana law,” the language is significantly broad enough to encourage lawsuits by individuals “even without their religious beliefs having actually been burdened simply by claiming that is ‘likely’ to happen.”
Finally, when Gov. Pence makes comparisons to the federal act signed by democrat, Pres. Bill Clinton, Lambda Legal points out:
SB 101 is substantially broader than the federal law. It extends religious rights toallbusinesses, no matter how large and completely secular they are. In addition, the federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action. SB 101 goes much further, inviting discrimination by allowing religious beliefs to be raised as a defense in lawsuits and administrative proceedings brought by workers, tenants and customers who have suffered discrimination in a business transaction based on someone else’s religious beliefs.
“State leaders have said that they do not want to invite discrimination in Indiana. If they mean it, it’s time to fix it,” said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal’s National Director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project in a statement. “A solution has now been proposed that will make it clear that discrimination against LGBT people — or anyone — is not acceptable in Indiana. It’s time to pass the Fairness for All Hoosiers act without delay.”
Mike Pence’s own history with LGBT rights-related issues makes it difficult to take him at his word, according to the Advocate. In fact, anti-LGBT activists, who Pence would not name when asked by the Indianapolis Star, surrounded the Indiana governor during the bill’s signing. One of the men in the photo op was Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, an activist who promotes ex-gay therapy and claims an LGBT youth center “recruits teens into the homosexual lifestyle” as described on theGLAAD website.