In a private ceremony on Thursday, March 26, Indiana governor Mike Pence (R) signed a bill into law that would allow allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. Pence signed this Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he said, because he “supports the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.”
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said in a statement Thursday.
Conservative supporters of the bill deny that the bill is about discrimination and instead have argued that religious liberties are under attack. “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” Pence said. “For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”
“This was a measure that frankly, Indiana should have enacted many years ago,” Pence continued. “It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard—it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest.”
Even so, as a result of the bill’s signing, large corporations commented they would rethink their operations in Indiana. Tech giant Salesforce and CEO Marc Benioff announced his company would now be avoiding doing business in Indiana to prevent his employees from facing discrimination. And NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a Thursday statement that “we are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees” and that the NCAA will “work diligently” to ensure competitors and visitors at next week’s Final Four are not “negatively impacted by this bill.” Emmert also said the organization, which is based in Indianapolis, will “closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
“These bills are often incredibly vague and light on details—usually intentionally. In practice, most of these bills could empower any individual to sue the government to attempt to end enforcement of a non-discrimination law,” wrote the LGBT equality group Human Rights Campaign in a report. “The evangelical owner of a business providing a secular service can sue claiming that their personal faith empowers them to refuse to hire Jews, divorcees or LGBT people. A landlord could claim the right to refuse to rent an apartment to a Muslim or a transgender person.”
Watch the following video from The Chicago Tribune.