Embattled Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said it was a “gross mischaracterization” to claim that a state law protecting religious liberty would give businesses a license to discriminate, but said Tuesday that he’s working to on a legislative fix for this public perception.
In a press conference Tuesday, Pence maintained that Indiana’s newly-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has come under fire across the country in the past several days, does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone. Pence slammed “reckless and irresponsible reporting” about the law that led to the perception that the law would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
“Some of the national reporting on this has been ridiculous,” Pence said, charging that the law has been “smeared.” But while he denied that the law gives any right to discriminate, the governor said the perception of the law is important and that he’ll work with the state legislature to pass legislation this week to clarify that the law doesn’t legalize discrimination.
After reports that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow businesses to refuse to serve people based on sexual orientation, Indiana suffered a backlash as businesses and other politicians said they might avoid the state. (RELATED: Conn. Governor To Ban Travel To Indiana Over Religious Freedom Law His State Has Too)
A federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act similar to Indiana’s was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. After a Supreme Court ruling several years later that the measure did not apply to state courts, 19 states have adopted similar laws and 11 have codified such provisions their state constitutions, according to The Washington Post.
“I think we need to focus specifically on this perception that this creates some license to discriminate, and that’s what I’m calling on this legislature to do,” Pence said of further legislation. “It’s a fix of a bill that through mischaracterization and confusion has come to be greatly misunderstood.”
“I think it’s important that we take this action this week. I’ve spoken to legislative leaders all the way through the last hour and we’re going to be working to make that happen.”
Pence argued again that Indiana’s passage of the law was sparked by Obamacare, not a desire to allow businesses to discriminate. The Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby last year was the “precipitating event” that led the state’s legislature to pass its own RFRA, Pence said.
The court ruled that Obamacare’s mandate for birth control coverage violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. In Indiana, the legal battle over the mandate is ongoing — the state’s University of Notre Dame is still fighting the birth control mandate in federal court.
Pence said that his seeming hesitancy to deny that the law allowed discrimination in interviews this past weekend was simply a mistake and vehemently denied that Indiana intended to condone discrimination. He repeatedly told reporters that he “abhors” discrimination and would have vetoed the law had it legalized it.
“This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples,” Pence told reporters when asked about his prior statements on the law. “Look, I could’ve handled that better this weekend…I think there is a growing public understanding that Indiana has passed a law here that mirrors the law that President Clinton signed…but on Sunday my intention was to set that record straight.”
While a “clarification” to fix the law’s public image is in the works, Pence was adamant that the measure’s benefits for religious liberty were staying in place. When asked whether he regrets signing the last, Pence immediately responded “absolutely not.”