Governor Pence signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act in private ceremony

Governor Mike Pence signs the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (Governor's office photo)

Governor Mike Pence has signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

The governor signed the so-called "religious freedom" bill Thursday morning.

The bill, co-authored by State Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), was approved by the Indiana House of Representatives Monday with a vote of 63-31 and the Senate concurred Tuesday, voting 40-10 along party lines. The bill that would prohibit any state or local laws that "substantially burden" the religious beliefs of an individual, business or religious institution.

"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," Pence said in a statement.

The bill is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed by Congress in 1993. Supporters say it protects religious liberty from government intrusion, but opponents say it's a license to discriminate.

"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 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation's anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana," Pence said.

"Not only is this law unnecessary, it already has portrayed [Indiana] as intolerant, unfriendly & backwards; things which I believe Hoosiers reject," State Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) tweeted after the signing.

"This is a sad day for Indiana," added Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana. "Over the past month, Hoosiers who want our state to be open to everyone filled the halls at the Statehouse. We wrote letters and delivered them in person. We called until they stopped answering the phones. We made it clear that this law will only be used to harm other Hoosiers, and that's not the Indiana way."

Those protests continued Thursday. That morning, a small group gathered in the rain outside of the Statehouse to protest the bill. Another group is planning a protest on the north side Thursday evening.

"The Indy Chamber remains opposed to this divisive and unnecessary law. In our February testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we warned of the impending negative economic impact this legislation would have on our ability to attract and retain jobs, talent, and investment, noting the bill will encourage current and potential residents, and visitors to take their business elsewhere," wrote Indy Chamber President & CEO Michael Huber.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement Thursday banning publicly-funded travel to Indiana after the bill was signed.

“We stand united as San Franciscans to condemn Indiana's new discriminatory law, and will work together to protect the civil rights of all Americans including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals," the statement read.

“Effective immediately, I am directing city departments under my authority to bar any publicly-funded city employee travel to the state of Indiana that is not absolutely essential to public health and safety. San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by the state of Indiana,” he said.

NCAA President Mark Emmert also issued a statement after the governor signed the bill.

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce," Emmert wrote.

ESPN host and commentator Keith Olbermann went a step further, saying the Final Four should immediately be pulled from Indianapolis, and the NFL should stop allowing games to be played in the state because of the bill's passage.

He wrote on Twitter Thursday, "I don't care if [the] Final 4 winds up being played in a parking lot in Tulsa, NCAA has no right to support legally codified hatred and stupidity. If a state wants to pretend this is 1955 and not 2015, dandy. You want to make some customers 'illegal'? Prepare to be left behind."

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, tweeted that his company, which purchased Indianapolis-based ExactTarget in 2013, canceled "all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination."

"I believe that this measure, far from protecting or restoring religious freedom, places vital religious life in peril," The Very Rev. Stephen E. Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral said in a statement. "This law is poor policy, bad for business, a dangerous example internationally and terrible theology. It should be repealed immediately."

The CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Yelp, a website and mobile app with reviews of local businesses, released an open letter to states considering similar pieces of legislation. Jeremy Stoppelman said, in part, "These laws set a terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted, the businesses currently operating in those states and, most importantly, the consumers who could be victimized under these laws."

Indianapolis native John Green, author of the best-selling book "The Fault In Our Stars," wrote, "As a Hoosier, I'm deeply saddened and embarrassed. A government exists to protect its citizens; instead, it is legalizing their oppression."

George Takei also sounded off on Twitter, saying he was, "Outraged over Indiana Freedom to Discriminate law, signed today. LGBTs aren't 2nd class citizens. #BoycottIndiana #Pence"

Perhaps the celebrity whose response was most widely embraced and shared on social media, though, was television and Broadway star Audra McDonald. Over several tweets, she spoke to Gov. Pence.

"Some in my band are gay & we have 2 gigs in your state next month. Should we call ahead to make sure the hotel accepts us all? Or could you maybe send us a list of where it's okay for us to go? Might the law apply to me? (I'm black) Or maybe I should fire my gay band members just to be on the safe side. Or MAYBE... we need to stick to singing in states that don't legislate hate? Or MAYBE I donate the money I make in your state while I'm there to organizations that will combat your hateful legislation. Yep, that's what I'll do. Hey, @HRC [Human Rights Campaign], get ready for a little money coming your way from Indiana via me to you! Have at it!"

Though the loudest reaction has come from those opposing the law, bill co-sponsor and State Representative Jud McMillin (R-Brookville), believes some of that opposition is rooted in misinformation.

"This is already the federal law; it's already the law in 30 other states. All this law does is put into place a standard that we can make sure courts use when people need to make sure that their right to be free from discrimination is protected," McMillin said.

IU law professor Daniel Conkle - who supports gay rights and same-sex marriage - agreed with McMillin, saying, "The concerns that this law will lead to discrimination are seriously overblown."

In the 30 other states that already have similar laws in place, Conkle says there have been very few cases of businesses using the law as a basis to discriminate against customers, and the store or service nearly always lost.

"If you have a wedding vendor case, that might be a closer thing, but even then, the religious objection claim is quite likely to fail," he said.

Lisa Schwier of Madison Avenue English Garden expects to see more same-sex customers coming to her for weddings now that they are legal in Indiana. She describes herself as a "strong Christian" who opposes gay marriage, but still says that if a same-sex couple walked into her store, she would likely still serve them.

In Indianapolis and other larger cities that have local anti-discrimination ordinances in place, Conkle says the chance of discrimination is even lower. Still, he does believe that Indiana needs statewide anti-discrimination legislation to remove any doubt as to the purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"What we need in Indiana is statewide anti-discrimination legislation for gays and lesbians, which we do not have."

Eyewitness News asked McMillin if he believes the law will harm business in Indiana.

"No, I certainly don't believe it will hurt business in Indiana," McMillin said. "I certainly understand that the perception is out there right now, but what I would ask those folks who are saying they are not going to do business here is: Where are you going to do it? This is the federal law, it's the law in 30 other states. So unless you are going to do it in some other country, you're going to have to understand that this very same law everywhere you're going to go."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana calls the new law a backlash reaction to gay marriage now being legal in the state.

The organization put out a statement Thursday saying the law will hurt the state's reputation, but they will not be challenging it because it is not unconstitutional. However, they will still closely watch what happens next.

"It will be the effects, the secondary effects and the tertiary effects we'll continue to monitor and we'll continue to push for protection and freedoms that will butt up against this law," said Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.

The ACLU says the law on the surface is about religious liberties and it doesn't single out anyone for discrimination.