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Pence set to sign 'religious freedom' bill into law

March 25, 2015

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law the controversial “religious freedom restoration” bill that has come under fire from opponents who say the measure could provide legal cover for discrimination against gay people.

Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said the governor has planned a private ceremony for Thursday to sign the measure, which would prohibit state and local laws that "substantially burden" the ability of people—including businesses and associations—to follow their religious beliefs.

Indiana would be the first state to enact such a change this year among about a dozen states where such proposals have been recently introduced.

The proposal has drawn criticism from several business groups and convention planners who worry that it presents Indiana as an unwelcoming state and who are asking Pence to veto the measure.

Indianapolis Mayer Greg Ballard criticized the bill in a public statement earlier Wednesday.

Pence has been a supporter of the Republican-backed bill, which cleared the Indiana House and Senate earlier this week.

Backers say the proposal is aimed at protecting religious freedom and preventing the government from compelling people to provide services for activities such as same-sex weddings that they consider objectionable.

Supporters also say discrimination concerns are overblown because the bill is modeled after a federal religious freedom law Congress passed in 1993 and similar laws are on the books in 19 states. However, the current political climate is far different than it was when most of those were approved because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on whether gay marriage bans violate the Constitution.

Conservative groups say the Indiana measure merely seeks to prevent the government from compelling people to provide such things as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable on religious grounds.

"I think you will find that, if you do your homework in it, this law is not going to allow you to discriminate against anyone else or anyone's rights in this country," GOP Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long said.

Similar bills have been advancing this year in the Arkansas and Georgia legislatures. Last year, Mississippi enacted a religious objection law just weeks after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a similar effort there amid criticism from major corporations.

Chris Gahl, a vice president of the Visit Indy tourism group, said it has been letting clients know about the other states with similar laws after the organization's board looked into the issue.

"We drew some comfort in knowing that cities we compete with daily, like Chicago, like San Antonio, like Nashville, have been able to navigate the waters and continue to grow tourism," he said.

The bill has already passed the Indiana House 63-31 and the Senate 40-10. It would pass into law whether Pence signs it or not. He would have to veto the measure to stop it.
 

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