Indiana: Governor signs ‘religious freedom’ bill into law

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, has signed the controversial bill that allows organisations to discriminate.

The bill allows organisations, including businesses and churches, to refuse service to anyone on religious grounds. Nineteen other states have similar laws, and many others have proposals making their way through the legislature.

It is seen by many to be a reaction against the legalisation of same-sex marriage in October last year, and is intended to “protect” organisations from having to provide services for same-sex weddings. There is widespread concern it will lead to increased discrimination against LGBT people.

In a statement, Governor Pence said: “Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier [Indiana citizen] of every faith. 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.”

There has also been concern the bill will harm business in the state. GenCon, an annual gaming convention that attracts 56,000 attendees to Indianapolis, said yesterday they would consider moving state if the measure became law.

But Governor Pence does not believe the law is discriminatory, saying: “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

“Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith.”

Democrat Senator Tim Lanane condemned the law in a statement: “Although not unexpected, it is still extremely disappointing that Governor Pence endorses this out-of- touch, discriminatory legislation. Not only is this law unnecessary, it unfortunately has already portrayed our state as intolerant, unfriendly, and backwards; things which I believe most Hoosiers reject.”

Ray Buckley Democratic National Committee Vice Chair, and LGBT Caucus member said: “In the face of opposition from Indiana’s LGBT community, Indiana’s business community, and the majority of Americans who believe a business should not be able to refuse services to individuals because they are gay or lesbian, Governor Mike Pence and the Republican Party decided to move forward with a damaging bill that turns back the clock on the progress we have made for LGBT equality.

“By signing this blatantly discriminatory bill that will only drive business out of his state, Pence reminds every Hoosier and every American that the Republican Party is more focused on its ideological social agenda than it is on expanding opportunity for the middle class and growing our economy.”