New Indiana bill protects religious liberty

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the state's "Religious Liberty" law in a private ceremony attended by a number of the bill's proponents including lawmakers, and various members of the areas religious communities. | Gov. Mike Pence Twitter

INDIANAPOLIS (Christian Examiner) -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a "religious freedom" bill into law March 26 offering the state's people of faith some assurance their religious liberties are protected under Indiana law.

"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith," Pence said in a press release after signing the act in a private ceremony.

The bill received heavy opposition from gay activists, various celebrities and organizations and even drew comment from the NCAA, which holds the Final Four men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis next week.

Opponents argued the bill allows for discrimination based on sexual orientation and voiced concern that business owners would use religious reasons to deny their products or services to members of the LGBT community. However, proponents of the measure state the law's intent is not to target gays and lesbians.

Ultimately, Senate Bill 101 prohibits the government from imposing a substantial burden on a person's ability to exercise their religion. In other states where such legal protections do not exist, business owners with religious convictions that do not support same-sex marriage have been forced to provide services for same-sex ceremonies or pay hefty fines.

Pence signed the law in his statehouse office without the presence of media. Though the event was closed to the press, Pence tweeted a photo of himself in the company of supporters and religious leaders.

The governor later said in a radio interview that approving the bill was a gesture to demonstrate that constitutionally granted religious liberties are not in jeopardy.

"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 response to critics Pence blamed the media for misrepresenting the law's intent.

"If you read the bill instead of reading the papers, you would see that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is now law in Indiana, is simply about giving the courts guidance and establishing the same standards that have existed at the federal level for more than 20 years," Pence said. "I understand the concerns that have been raised by some, because frankly, some in the media have tried to make this about one issue or another."

According to the IndyStar, some of the city's largest conventions and businesses threatened to relocate their gatherings over the matter. The list included the Disciples of Christ denomination that holds their annual convention attended by roughly 6,000 members there.

The "Religious Freedom" bill becomes effective July 1 and makes Indiana the 20th state in the nation to adopt similar legislation. Pence emphasized that to date those other states had not allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana was modeled after the RFRA signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.