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Governor Pence To ‘Clarify’ RFRA Amid Criticism

Gov. Mike Pence signed RFRA into law last week, sparking a firestorm of opposition from across the country.

On the same day that 3,000 people converged at the Indiana statehouse on Saturday to protest Indiana’s new ‘religious freedom’ law, known as RFRA, the governor said he would clarify the law’s intent.

Saturday’s rally was part of a backlash that’s only picked up steam since Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill in a private ceremony last week.

Opponents of RFRA say it opens the door to legal discrimination, particularly against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

They’re not explicitly protected by Indiana’s civil rights law, and opponents say RFRA could allow businesses to refuse them services based on religious grounds. Plus, they say the law sends the wrong message about Indiana, and its capital city:

“This is not 1915 Alabama. This is 2015 Indiana, and I’m here to say that this law is not welcome here, Indianapolis City-County Councilor Zach Adamson, a Democrat and vocal opponent of RFRA, said at the rally.

RFRA has unleashed a torrent of bad PR for Indianapolis and the state in social media and in the press.

After software company Salesforce said it was cancelling its expansion, Indy-based Angie’s List said on Saturday that it’s also halting plans for a $40 million expansion on the Eastside of Indianapolis.

In the wake of the firestorm, Gov. Mike Pence told the Indianapolis Star that he plans to “clarify” what RFRA actually does.

“I support religious liberty, and I support this law,” Pence said in an exclusive interview. “But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law.”

The governor, although not ready to provide details on what the new bill will say, said he expects the legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly this coming week.

Asked if that legislation might include making gay and lesbian Hoosiers a protected legal class, Pence said, “That’s not on my agenda.”

The Indiana legislature had an opportunity to amend RFRA before they passed it to specify that preventing discrimination qualified as reason the government could infringe on a person’s religious liberties, but that amendment was shot down.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Dan Conkle, who has testified in favor of RFRA, said the amendment was sloppily written, which is why he opposed it.

“Indiana has no prohibition of discrimination on sexual orientation,” he explains, referring to the state’s civil rights statute, which bans discrimination for other reasons such as race. “That’s where the energy should reside to modify the civil rights statute to include sexual orientation. Then, if needed, we could modify RFRA in that context.”

Indianapolis Democratic Representative Ed DeLaney authored the amendment and says after the firestorm of criticism that’s erupted over RFRA, introducing language similar to his in an attempt to “clarify” the law isn’t enough.

“Our people need a strong statement against discrimination if we’re going to get our state back on the proper economic keel,” DeLaney said.

On Sunday, Pence reiterated in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he does not support adding protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights statute.

DeLaney said that refusal already “clarifies” the intent of the RFRA, showing it is a means to discriminate against people in the LGTB community.

WFYI’s Michelle Johnson and IPBS’ Brandon Smith contributed to this report.

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