Indiana business leaders oppose ‘religious freedom’ law Pence backs

Indiana state Rep. Timothy Wesco (R-Osceola), addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis on February 9, 2015. Michael Conroy, AP

Indiana state Rep. Timothy Wesco (R-Osceola), addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis on Monday.Michael Conroy, AP

Indiana state Rep. Timothy Wesco (R-Osceola), addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis on Monday.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana business leaders 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 beliefs.

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 difficulty to attract companies.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard about four hours of testimony on the proposal after Republican Gov. Mike Pence joined a couple hundred 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 same-sex marriage in Indiana last year.

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