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Indiana religious freedom debate exposes Republican divisions

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says Indiana is “holding the line to protect religious liberty.” Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

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“I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a Monday radio interview. He said the law was “simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday tweeted: “I stand with” Pence, and “Religious freedom is worth protecting.”

“We must stand with those who stand up for religious freedoms,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who announced his GOP presidential campaign last week, said the Indiana governor was “holding the line to protect religious liberty” in his state.

Some economic-minded Republicans saw it another way.

“It takes our eye off the really important things to most people in this country: jobs, the economy and our security,” said Ronald Weiser, former finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. “That’s probably not the best thing for our party as a whole.”

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Last week, Pence signed the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, giving heightened protections when businesses or individuals object on religious grounds to providing certain services.

Critics of the law say the intent is to discriminate against gays. They fear, for example, that caterers, florists, photographers and bakers with religious objections to same-sex marriage will be allowed to refuse to do business with gay couples. Supporters of the law say it will only give religious objectors a chance to bring their case before a judge.

Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states – Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, among them – patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Nineteen other states have similar laws.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican, has criticized such a proposal in his state, telling The Associated Press on Tuesday that he’s yet to see evidence of a problem the bill purports to fix.

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