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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana Governor Wants Changes to Controversial Religious Objections Law

Gov. Mike Pence does not believe lawmakers intended 'to create a license to discriminate'

A major development in the ongoing battle of supremacy of rights between Christians and the LGBT lobby. An indication of the losing trend that will not reverse itself - partly because many of us Christians have a rather unChrist-like attitude toward gays and lesbians. Fighting them rather than praying for them is always going to result in loss.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he wants new legislation on his desk this week that would ensure businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians based on religious grounds.

Gov. Mike Pence defended the measure as a vehicle to protect religious liberty but said he has been meeting with lawmakers "around the clock" to address concerns that it would allow businesses to deny services to gay customers.

The governor said he does not believe "for a minute" that lawmakers intended "to create a license to discriminate."

I wouldn't bet the farm on that, Mike!

"It certainly wasn't my intent," said Pence, who signed the law last week.

But, he said, he "can appreciate that that's become the perception, not just here in Indiana but all across the country. We need to confront that."

Religious Objections Protest
A crowd of at least 2,000 people, including Democratic elected officials,
rallied outside the Indiana Statehouse against the state's new Religious
Freedom Restoration Law. (Rick Callahan/Associated Press)
The law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Although the legal language does not specifically mention gays and lesbians, critics say the law is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians, such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.

'Fix this now'

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Indiana officials appeared to be in "damage-control mode" following an uproar over the law.

Earnest also took issue with Pence's claim that Indiana's law was rooted in a 1993 federal law. He said the Indiana measure marked a "significant expansion" over the 1993 law because it applies to private transactions beyond those involving the federal government.

Businesses and organizations including Apple and the NCAA have voiced concern over the law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to Indiana.

Also Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star urged state lawmakers in a front-page editorial to respond to widespread criticism of the law by protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.

The Star's editorial, headlined "FIX THIS NOW," covered the newspaper's entire front page. It called for lawmakers to enact a law that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The newspaper says the uproar sparked by the law has "done enormous harm" to the state and potentially to its economic future.

Arkansas could pass similar law

Meanwhile, Arkansas was poised to follow Indiana in enacting a law, despite increasing criticism from businesses and gay-rights advocates.

The Arkansas House could vote as early as Tuesday on a proposal that would prohibit state and local governments from infringing on a person's religious beliefs without a "compelling" reason. And unlike in Indiana, Arkansas lawmakers said they will not modify their measure.

"There's not really any place to make any changes now," Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville said about his proposal. "If there are questions in two years, we can fix it."

Hundreds of protesters filled Arkansas' Capitol to oppose the measure, holding signs that read "Discrimination is not a Christian Value" and "Discrimination is a Disease," and chanting "Shame on You" at Ballinger after the measure was endorsed by a House committee.

"I believe that many people will want to flee the state, and many people will want to avoid our state," said Rita Jernigan, a protester and one of the lead plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Arkansas' gay marriage ban.

Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states. Nineteen other states have similar laws on the books.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had expressed reservations about unintended consequences of an earlier version of the bill, has said he will sign the current measure into law.

"But I am pleased that the Legislature is continuing to look at ways to assure balance and fairness in the legislation," Hutchinson said Monday in a statement.

In a letter released Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola urged Hutchinson to veto the proposal, which he said would hurt the state's economic-development efforts because it "sends the message that some members of our community will have fewer protections than others. Our city and our state cannot be limited to only certain segments of society."

Apple CEO opposes measures

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in Arkansas' anti-discrimination protections. Last month, Hutchinson allowed a measure to go into law that prevented local governments from including such protections in their anti-discrimination ordinances.

Opponents of the bill hoped to target Hutchinson's promise to be a "jobs governor." The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, has run ads in Silicon Valley aimed at the same technology firms Hutchinson has said he wants to lure to Arkansas.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend opposing the Arkansas and Indiana measures. Wal-Mart has said the proposal sends the wrong message about its home state. Little Rock-based data services company Acxiom also urged Hutchinson to veto the bill, saying the measure would enable discrimination and open the state up to ridicule.

"This bill is at direct odds with your position that 'Arkansas is open for business,"' CEO Scott Howe and Executive Vice President Jerry C. Jones wrote Monday in a letter to the governor.

Seriously? What kind of business is it not open to?