INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 26, 2015) - The controversial religious freedom restoration act is now law in Indiana. Governor Mike Pence signed the bill in a private ceremony Thursday morning.
Immediately after the signing, the Governor took to defending the bill. During a press conference, he attempted to dispel any rumors and myths, and quiet the controversy.
“This bill is not about discrimination and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way, I would’ve vetoed it,” he said. “This legislation has never eroded anti-discrimination laws anywhere in the United States of America, ever,” the Governor told reporters Thursday.
Since 1993, a federal religious freedom law has been in place, with states having to enact their own provisions. Pence pointed to the 30 others than have enacted similar legislation since 1993.
But when asked about the timing of Indiana’s bill, less than one year after the legalization of same sex marriage in the state, “It’s a nice try. I like the way you kind of connected the dots. This was overdue, ok? You said Indiana didn’t feel the need, well the need was there starting in 1997. This became federal law in 1993,” he said.
“This was the classic solution in search of a problem,” said State Representative and House Minority Leader, Scott Pelath (D – Michigan City).
Indiana democrats are outraged over the law, citing major corporations that are considering pulling out of operations in Indiana. The CEO of SalesForce.com, the company that acquired the Indianapolis based marketing software company, ExactTarget last year, announced Thursday that because of the law, he would no longer send employees or customers to Indiana. Other major Indiana businesses including Eli Lilly, and Cummins, as well as a coalition of Indiana based technology companies, have all voiced concern and opposition of the bill to the Governor.
“The Governor had one last chance today to restore sanity, to veto this measure, and instead, he chose to go behind closed doors and put his signature on one of the most mean spirited and controversial pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in recent times,” said Pelath.
There is concern among some that the law could lead to discrimination. The Governor was adamant though that the law only applies to government action and can’t be used in private disputes.
“I think in time, people will see it for what it is and they’ll see we did the right thing here,” said Pence.
The Indy Chamber of Commerce and the NCAA have also voiced concern over the legislation.
On Tuesday, Gen Con released a statement saying the bill will factor into their decision-making on hosting the convention in Indiana.
“Anytime something impacts our ability to market Indianapolis and drive convention business we of course get concerned,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy.
The convention welcomed over 50,000 visitors from every state and 40 different countries last year. It pumped roughly $50 million into the local economy.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard spoke out over fear of continued repercussions and released this statement Wednesday:
“I don’t believe this legislation truly represents our state or our capital city. Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents. We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here. RFRA sends the wrong signal.”
The governor issued this statement immediately following the ceremony Thursday morning:
“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.
“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.
“One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.
“Fortunately, in the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means.
“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. At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes. And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action.
“In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action.
“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. 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. 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.”