Indiana's governor explains why the state's new 'religious freedom' law is not a 'licence to discriminate'

Mike Pence IndianaAPIndiana Gov. Mike Pence

A new Indiana law that will allow discrimination against lesbians and gays has drawn a lot of ire from people and companies around the country this week.

Apple CEO Tim Cook criticised the law in a widely read op-ed in The Washington Post, and the band Wilco canceled an upcoming concert in Indianapolis, saying the legislation “feels like thinly disguised legal discrimination.”

Now, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has written his own op-ed in The Wall Street Journal defending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he signed last week. The law will take effect July 1.

Many supporters say the law was designed to make it harder for the government to interfere with peoples’ religious practices, while some opponents contend it would allow individuals to use religion as an excuse to deny housing, employment, or services to gays and lesbians.

Pence, a Republican, writes that legislation is simply about “affording citizens full protection under Indiana law” and that it “ensures that Indiana law will respect religious freedom and apply the highest level of scrutiny to any state or local governmental action that infringes on people’s religious liberty.”

He also pointed out that the act “reflects federal law, as well as law in 30 states nationwide.”

From the op-ed:

I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore. As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalised discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

Pence continued that “RFRA only provides a mechanism to address claims, not a licence for private parties to deny services.”

He also cited the Hobby Lobby case that the Supreme Court decided on last year. The court ruled that, because of this federal law protecting religious freedom, employers with religious objections can refuse to pay for contraception despite the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for coverage.

Pence notes that state laws are also necessary because the federal law does not apply to states.

In his Washington Post editorial, Cook argued that this wave of state legislation “rationalize[s] injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear” and wrote that the laws “have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”

Cook also pointed out that discrimination, “in all its forms,” is “bad for business.”

Indiana might already been seeing the negative business effects from its new law — some government officials in other states have banned state-funded trips to Indiana, canceled its programs in the state, a Paypal founder urged his company to reconsider its work in Indiana, and the CEO of Yelp threatened to punish the state’s finances.

Republican leaders of the state Legislature said Monday they would find a fix to “clarify” the law and make clear it is not discriminatory.

Hunter Walker and Colin Campbell contributed to this report.

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