INDIANAPOLIS — Despite an increasing public outcry condemning SB 101, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended the law which is designed to allow businesses, organizations and individuals to discriminate against anyone in Indiana on religious grounds.
Pence refused to answer directly when asked eight times whether under the law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers, but repeatedly said the law, signed last week, was “not about discrimination.”
“Governor Pence continues to deceive the public about this deeply flawed law,” said Jennifer Pizer, National Director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, who fact checked Pence’s remarks, and issued this clarification:
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Gov. Pence myth: SB 101 is just like Illinois law that then-State Senator Obama voted to support.
“Truth: Gov. Pence fails to point out that Illinois has robust nondiscrimination clauses in its state Human Rights Act that specifically protect LGBT people. Indiana does not. This matters because those seeking to discriminate in Indiana may claim that the lack of a statewide law barring sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination means that there is no compelling state interest in enforcing local ordinances providing such protections.
Gov. Pence myth: This law only reinforces established law in Indiana.
Truth: The language in SB 101 is so broadly written that someone can sue even without their religious beliefs having actually been burdened simply by claiming that is “likely” to happen.
“Gov. Pence myth: SB101 is just like federal law that President Clinton signed 20 years ago.
“Truth: SB 101 is substantially broader than the federal law. The federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action. SB 101 goes much further, inviting discrimination by allowing religious beliefs to be raised as a defense in lawsuits and administrative proceedings brought by workers, tenants and customers who have suffered discrimination.
In addition, SB 101 makes it easier to claim a burden on religious freedom than the federal RFRA by defining the “exercise of religion” as “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”
“If Governor Pence meant it when he said that SB101 isn’t intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people, then why were amendments designed to make that explicit repeatedly rejected during the legislative process? If he truly means what he says, then he and the legislature should work together to add this language:
‘This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.’
“And the Indiana government should include gay and transgender people within Indiana’s protections from discrimination.”