Indiana business groups differed with Gov. Mike Pence and some clergy Monday on a proposed law that supporters say would protect people and businesses from having to take part in same-sex weddings and other activities they find objectionable because of religious belief.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other business groups argued that the Republican-sponsored proposal could hurt the state's reputation and make it more difficult to attract companies.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard about four hours of testimony on the proposal after Republican Gov. Mike Pence joined about 200 supporters of the proposal at a Statehouse rally earlier in the day.
Prominent conservative lobbying groups are pushing for the proposal, focusing on worries that the government could force bakers or photographers to provide services for gay weddings or require churches to host such ceremonies.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, told the rally that the law would shield those with strong religious beliefs and would not be "some kind of ax that we wield against people."
"This allows us to practice our deeply held religious beliefs," he said. "It protects us against government incursion, from overreaching government."
Byron Myers, a member of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, told the Senate committee that the group worried the change could expose businesses to lawsuits from employees and damage the state's business environment.
"We don't think these bills would weigh in favor of locating here," Myers said.
The bill under consideration, which did not come to a vote Monday, would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and has definition of a "person" that includes religious institutions, corporations, partnerships and associations.
Social conservatives in several states have pushed similar bills as gay marriage has been legalized across the nation. Federal courts legalized gay marriage in Indiana last year.
Supporters holding signs saying "Protect Religious Freedom" heard from Pence a few hours before the committee hearing. Pence didn't discuss details of the proposal as he spoke for only about three minutes, but thanked those attending for standing up "for our cherished freedom of religion."
Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle told the Senate committee he supports same-sex marriage rights but believes the religious freedom proposal would narrowly protect business owners from being compelled by any state or local law to provide services for events they find objectionable.
"For some religious people, this sort of participation in a same-sex wedding celebration would violate their deepest sense of religious conviction and religious conscience," he said.
Father David Mary Engo, superior of the Catholic Franciscan Brothers Minor in the Fort Wayne area, argued that the law was needed to protect more than just the right to worship.
"We also have the right to take our faith outside of the church," Engo said.
Cummins Inc. executive Fiona Devan said the Columbus-based engine maker believed the proposal was bad for Indiana businesses.
"We also believe the bills send a message that Indiana is an unwelcoming state that allows individuals and businesses to discriminate against others," she said. "We are concerned about the negative effect the bills will have on our ability to attract the best and brightest employees."