Just days after saying Indiana "won't change" the newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana Governor Mike Pence vowed this afternoon to "fix" the law, but added immediately that nothing's wrong with it. Pence admitted he hadn't been expecting "this kind of backlash" to the law, and accused its critics of trying to "smear" it.
Pence said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the RFRA was designed to "protect the vitality of religious liberty in the Hoosier state." He insisted, not for the first time, that it doesn't give individuals or businesses a license to discriminate or deny services: "Had this law been about legalizing discrimination, I would have vetoed it. This law does not give anyone a license to discriminate." He also called descriptions of the law in the media "false and baseless" and accused journalists of "reckless reporting."
Pence continues to insist that the law is all about making sure the government can't meddle in people's religious practices. But as Think Progress points out, unlike virtually every other religious liberty-style bill that's been passed by 19 states and federal government, Indiana's explicitly says it's about protecting any individual or entity whose ""exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened," and that they can use the law as a defense "regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding." As Slate points out, the bill's sponsors made two important tweaks to make absolutely sure it could be used to its full discriminatory effects: the law explicitly protects for-profit businesses, and it bars private lawsuits as well as lawsuits from the state.
Pence says, though, that he's directed state lawmakers to draft a "follow-up" measure, one that "makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone." Except it does, Mike. It did. That's what you signed. The New York Times also notes that the governor seemed "clearly exasperated" and was "sighing audibly" throughout the press conference.
Photo via AP