Indiana lawmakers try to quiet firestorm surrounding new religious freedom law

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Updated: 10:30 p.m. EDT

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence called off public appearances Monday and sports officials planned an “Indy Welcomes All” campaign ahead of this weekend’s NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis as lawmakers scrambled to quiet the firestorm over a new law that has much of the country portraying Indiana as a state of intolerance.

Republican legislative leaders said they are working on adding language to the religious-objections law to make it clear that the measure does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. As signed by Pence last week, the measure prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.

The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

“What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “What instead has come out is a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent.”

The efforts fell flat with Democrats, who called for a repeal, and even some Republicans.

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“They’re scrambling to put a good face on a bad issue. What puzzles me is how this effort came to the top of the legislative agenda when clearly the business community doesn’t support it,” said Bill Oesterle, an aide to Republican former Gov. Mitch Daniels and CEO of consumer reporting agency Angie’s List, which canceled expansion plans in Indianapolis because of the law.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, said the law threatens to undermine the city’s economic growth and reputation as a convention and tourism destination and called for lawmakers to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana civil-rights laws.

“I call upon Governor Pence and the Indiana Legislature to fix this law. Either repeal it or pass a law that protects all who live, work and visit Indiana. And do so immediately. Indianapolis will not be defined by this,” Ballard said.

After a two-hour private meeting of House Republicans, Bosma said Monday that repealing the law isn’t “a realistic goal at this point.”

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