Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs revised RFRA bill

House Speaker Brian Bosma
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs revised RFRA bill
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Indiana Governor Mike Pence has signed the state's amended Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

After hours of discussion Thursday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a revised version of the controversial bill 66-30. The Indiana Senate approved the new version late Thursday afternoon.

"The freedom of religion for every Hoosier is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and in the Indiana Constitution, which reads, 'No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.' For generations, these protections have served as a bulwark of religious liberty for Hoosiers and remain a foundation of religious liberty in the State of Indiana, and that will not change," Gov. Pence said in a statement.

"Last week the Indiana General Assembly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act raising the judicial standard that would be used when government action intrudes upon the religious liberty of Hoosiers, and I was pleased to sign it. Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward," Pence added.

The revised bill does not include making the LGBT community a protected class. The move, however, lays a foundation for that debate in the Indiana State Legislature.

"What was intended as a message of inclusion of all religious beliefs was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT community," said House Speaker Brian Bosma earlier Thursday. "Nothing could have been further from the truth, but it was clear that the perception had to be addressed.

Bosma spoke before a packed House chamber. "We are sorry that misinterpretation hurt so many people," Bosma added later.

"I personally extend that apology to anyone who received that message," he said. "We are here. We are here to make it right. We are here to assure those who feel the RFRA statute would discriminate against them that it will not be used for that purpose."

The changes would affect residents living in cities or towns that have enacted civil rights ordinances that extend protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Gay rights leaders at the Indiana Statehouse Thursday said the compromise was a "first step" but said they would still push for a statewide civil rights statute.

"Indiana is open for business. We welcome everyone. We discriminate against no one," Bosma said, but added, "It's fixed. Is the damage able to be turned back? That is yet to be seen."

"The healing needs to begin right now. For the first time ever, the words 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' appear in an Indiana statute - or they will after this law is passed - in the context of nondiscrimination," said former Indianapolis Mayor and Eli Lilly exec Bart Peterson. "It will take time and more work."

"We care how people feel when they come here. and for generations that has been genuine and that will continue," said Allison Melangton, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There was a notable absence when business went to bat for the welfare of the state. The governor was not in the room.

"They had to admit the governor is in hiding. We have a governor who says discrimination is not on his agenda. That didn't change. The business community said we need to change the law to protect against discrimination. The Republican politicians wouldn't say that. They wouldn't even commit to a hearing on the bill," said Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis).

But, as former Mayor Peterson said, words matter.

"The discussion about special class protection for LGBT community is going to happen. Today has started that discussion," said Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne).

"We are not going to let any of these people off the hot seat. We struck a compromise. They will be hearing from us again," said Kathy Sarris, Indiana Equality.

Civic and business leaders stood behind Bosma and and Senate President Pro Tem David Long for the announcement. They included Pacers President Jim Morris, who said, "For 50 years, Hoosiers, people who live in Indy have worked as hard as humanly possible with the most collegial inclusive mindset to tell the world that we want them to come to Indiana, to Indianapolis, that they're welcome here, that this is a dynamic, upbeat, happy, positive place. The results of that effort have been extraordinary."

Read the amended language here.

Further remarks from Gov. Pence:

"Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged. I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law.

"Hoosiers deserve to know, that even with this legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enhances protections for every church, non-profit religious organization or society, religious school, rabbi, priest, preacher, minister or pastor in the review of government action where their religious liberty is infringed. The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing.

"In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation. For that I will be forever grateful.

"There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, 'What is best for Indiana?' I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.

"Our state is rightly celebrated for our pro-business environment, and we enjoy an international reputation for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance and kindness of our people. Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan; it is our way of life. Now that this is behind us, let's move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great."

The new language reads:

Sec. 0.7. This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service; or (3) negate any rights available under the Constitution of the State of Indiana.

Bosma said Wednesday night that a repeal of the bill would be a mistake, adding, "It infers there is something wrong with the RFRA law and I don't think there is. The question is removing the specter that's been raised of discrimination and denial of service, facilities, some other things. So that is what we're focusing on."

Republicans had some supporters Wednesday. Debi Ketron from Dearborn County put out the call and people came.

"We are here today to encourage these people to say we are praying for you. You did the right thing by passing RFRA. We are here to encourage you," Ketron said. "We understand this bill is not about discrimination. We understand there are people pushing an agenda and trying to make this about that. That is not what this bill is about. It's about protecting the First Amendment rights of every Hoosier."

"I did vote against it and I am still very comfortable voting no, but I will support the language to fix it," said Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville).

Eberhart was one of five Republicans who voted against RFRA.

"This bill has never been about discrimination, but we are at a point where perception is reality so it is the direction we are heading and hopefully we have some language that will alleviate the concerns," he said.

Freedom Indiana issued a statement late Wednesday saying the proposals being floated in the hallways fall far short of full protection LGBT Hoosiers need, which leaves the door wide open for discrimination.

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