Pence fights back: Religious freedom law ‘grossly misconstrued … I abhor discrimination’

Vice President Mike Pence Associate Press

Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

Indiana governor Mike Pence, in an essay published Monday evening in The Wall Street Journal:

Last week I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, which 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. Unfortunately, the law has stirred a controversy and in recent days has been grossly misconstrued as a “license to discriminate.”

I want to make clear to Hoosiers and every American that despite what critics and many in the national media have asserted, the law is not a “license to discriminate,” either in Indiana or elsewhere. In fact, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act reflects federal law, as well as law in 30 states nationwide. Indiana’s legislation is about affording citizens full protection under Indiana law.

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 legalized 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.

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As The Atlantic noted earlier Monday, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.”

The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the other states with RFRAs except South Carolina.

The new Indiana statute also contains this odd language, notes Garrett Epps: “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.”

The federal RFRA does not include any such language; only the Texas RFRA, passed in 1999, contains similar language.

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