Indiana Governor Signs Religious Freedom Law

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Indianans are complaining that a “religious freedom act” Gov. Mike Pence signed today in a private ceremony will legalize discrimination.
     Senate Bill 101, also known as The Religious Restoration Freedom Act, was passed by the state house and re-passed by the senate earlier this week. The bill prevents a government entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, unless the government can demonstrate a governmental interest and is the least restrictive means to achieve it.
     “Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said in a statement from the ceremony, which was closed to the public. “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.”
     Opponents of the bill believe that, instead of protecting freedoms, it will legalize discrimination, especially against same-sex couples who just won the right to marry in Indiana this past October.
     “This bill dangerously allows people to pick and choose which laws they want to follow and which ones they don’t,” HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse said. “Religious freedom is important – that’s why it’s protected in our Constitution – but this bill is not about the right of people to practice their religion. It’s about undermining basic civil rights laws and subjecting countless Hoosiers to discrimination.
     GenCon, the state’s largest annual convention which is held in downtown Indianapolis every year and provides an estimated annual economic impact of more than $50 million dollars to the city, was one of the many businesses to speak out against the bill before Gov. Pence signed it into law.
     “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor in our decision-making on hosting the convention in the State of Indiana in future years,” Gen Con CEO Adrian Swartout wrote in a letter to the governor earlier this week.
     State Sen. Scott Schneider defended the legislation he co-authored.
     “There have been accusations that this law is extreme and will allow discrimination,” Schneider said in a statement. “These arguments are false. By passing the RFRA, we are simply making sure people of faith in Indiana have adequate protection from government infringement. The right of each person to practice his or her religious faith is one of America’s foundational principles.
     The bill found overwhelming support in both the legislative branches of state government, passing the Republican-controlled house on Monday in a 63-31 vote. Five Republicans joined the 26 Democrats in voting against it.
     Despite the national outcry of opposition for the bill, Gov. Pence attempted to reassure people of how the bill will help Indiana.
     “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” Pence said. “In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

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