Governor Pence takes RFRA message nationwide; slams critics

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning to explain Indiana's adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

"This is about protecting the religious liberty of people and families of faith across this country.  That is what it's been for more than 20 years and that is what it is as the law of Indiana," Pence said.

Yes or no? If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana, Stephanopoulos asked? 

"This is where this debate has gone with misinformation," Governor Pence responded without directly answering the question. He went on to clarify that RFRA does not apply to disputes between individuals unless government is involved. 

Pence did not answer directly when asked at least six times whether it would be legal for a business to refuse to serve gay customers.

"Here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privilege of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance has been poured on our state.  It's outrageous," Pence responded. "Some of the media coverage of this has been shameless and reckless and the online attacks against the people of our state, I am just not going to stand for it," he continued.

Stephanopoulos then pushed back, asking if a potential solution might be to make sexual orientation a protected class.

"We are not going to change the law, okay? But if the General Assembly sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last twenty years, then I am open to that. We are not going to change this law. It has been tested in court for more than two decades on the federal level," Pence said.

At the end of the interview, the host asked again, "Final yes or no question, governor. Do you think it would be legal in the State of Indiana to discriminate against gays and lesbians?"  

"George," Pence responded.  

"It's a yes or no question," Stephanopoulos interjected. 

"Come on, Hoosiers do not believe in discrimination," the governor said.

That is what Pence will be telling the NCAA and the visitors who will be coming to Indianapolis this week for the Final Four.  It was supposed to be an opportunity for Hoosier hospitality to shine. Now some fear it is an opportunity for Hoosier hospitality to be openly challenged.

Angie's List founder and former Governor Mitch Daniels' one-time campaign manager announced last week his attention to halt a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis. Bill Oesterle said in a statement, "Until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees."

President Barack Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the governor appeared to be in "damage control mode." Earnest went on to say, "If you have to go back two decades to try to justify what you're doing today, it may raise questions."

He made that point after Governor Pence pointed out that President Bill Clinton actually signed the federal RFRA act into law in 1993, which also had bipartisan support.  Pence added that then-State Senator Barack Obama also supported the state RFRA measure enacted in Illinois.  However, as Stephanopoulos pointed out to Pence in Sunday's interview, sexual orientation is a protected class in Illinois.  That is not the case with Indiana's new law.

The spotlight will now turn to the legislative session where lawmakers who crafted this new law may not have to find a way to craft their way out of it.

See all stories about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana.