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Gov. Pence proposes 'fix' to religious freedom law

John Bacon, USA TODAY 12:35 p.m. EDT March 31, 2015

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence aggressively defended Indiana's religious freedom law Tuesday but said he wants a bill on his desk by week's end "making it clear the law does not allow businesses the right to deny services to anyone."

"This law does not give anyone the right to discriminate," Pence said at a news conference. "But I can appreciate that that has become the perception."

The state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which takes effect July 1, would prohibit laws that "substantially burden" a person's freedom of religion unless the government can prove a compelling interest in imposing that burden.

The law has drawn sharp criticism from gay and LGBT groups and some corporations. Nine corporate CEOs sent Pence an open letter asking that the state "immediately enact new legislation that makes it clear that neither the Religious Freedom Restoration Act nor any other Indiana law can be used to justify discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity."

Pence called his proposal "a clarification, but also a fix." Continuing a theme since signing the bill last week, he pressed his argument that the law and his state are not discriminatory.

Pence has consistently blamed "some on the left" and the national media with mischaracterizing the bill. He again argued that the law mirrors the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1993.

"That may be true only if you're using a funhouse mirror," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said Tuesday. Schumer said the federal law is less broad and was designed to protect individuals from government interference. The Indiana law also protects private companies and corporations, Schumer said.

"This issue for me is first about religious liberty," Pence said earlier Tuesday while pitching his case on Fox News. "Indiana is open for business. If we have to make adjustments to this law to make it clear that this law as never intended to give businesses the right to turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation, we will fix that."

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in downtown Indianapolis to protest. Some Indiana business leaders have balked, led by Indianapolis-based Angie's List, which put off a planned $40 million expansion.

The corporate uprising isn't just a local issue: Gap Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. issued a statement saying laws such as Indiana's "allow people and businesses to deny service to people based on their sexual orientation (and) turn back the clock on equality and foster a culture of intolerance."

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson described the law as "pure idiocy," adding that "the notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate agasint people bsed on who they are is madness."

Pence has been working tirelessly to patch his state's image, writing an op-ed for Tuesday's Wall Street Journal blasting the media for characterizing the law as a "license to discriminate."

"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."

Pence has plenty of supporters. On Monday, some leading GOP presidential hopefuls lined up behind Pence on the issue. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida expressed support for Pence and the Indiana law.

Rubio told Fox News that no one would support refusing to serve a gay couple in a restaurant, but added that "the flip side is … should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?"

Contributing: Catalina Camia

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/31/pence-religious-freedom-fox-news/70709838/

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Ga. House panel cancels 'religious freedom' bill meeting

Jeremy Campbell and Michael King, WXIA-TV, Atlanta 11:03 p.m. EDT March 29, 2015

ATLANTA — The Georgia House Judiciary Committee has canceled a meeting to discuss the "religious freedom" bill.

The bill passed the Senate and came to the House, where it was tabled.

Monday's meeting would have been the move to get it back on the table to be voted on Tuesday. It's not clear if the meeting will be rescheduled.

The cancellation comes as Indiana is dealing with backlash from adopting a similar law. Seattle's mayor is banning official travel to Indiana, while the head of Angie's List halted construction of a new facility in the state's capital.

Last week, a packed hearing at the Gold Dome focused on the "religious freedom" bill. It says the government can only "burden a person's exercise of religion … if it furthers the governmental interest," but does that protect religion or hurt it?

The debate on Tuesday inside the House subcommittee hearing came down to protecting faith versus preserving civil rights. The chamber was so packed, conversations with lawmakers spilled out in to hallway.

"There has been a whole lot of bad stuff done in the name of religion," said Rep. Roger Bruce, a democrat.

Paul Smith disagreed. He said he supports SB129 because it he believes it will help protect morality clauses within Georgia's Christian Schools. However he didn't get a chance to make his case before the subcommittee. It was too crowded.

"The chairman limited each side to one hour, so when our one hour expired they didn't allow any one else to speak," Smith said.

Former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers led arguments against the bill

"It will give the opportunity to exclude in the name of religion, and I think that's a disaster," said told the panel.

He said the problem is how the bill is written, allowing "all citizens the chance to interpret the law for their own benefit."

With just days left in the legislative session, Republican Sen. Joshua McKoon, who introduced the bill, has been lobbying to put it to a vote as-is, as soon as possible.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/29/ga-house-cancels-religious-freedom-bill-meeting/70652168/?hootPostID=e1ce420a03e8b7690ebb6d991c02d025

Georgia's proposed legislation: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/129

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GOP proponents of these laws point to the fact that Clinton signed the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, though the US Supreme Court struck it down as it applied to the states as an unconstitutional use of Congress' power. The Federal version has been upheld as it applies to Federal laws only.

This lead to numerous states passing their own version of this law, and the fights right now in Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

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GOP proponents of these laws point to the fact that Clinton signed the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, though the US Supreme Court struck it down as it applied to the states as an unconstitutional use of Congress' power. The Federal version has been upheld as it applies to Federal laws only.

This lead to numerous states passing their own version of this law, and the fights right now in Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

I don't know which is funnier, states like Georgia and Indiana passing laws like this when they don't have anti-discrimination laws in place to render it useful, or Hillary Clinton saying it's sad how a law like this could be passed in America when her husband signed the Federal version (or the governor of Connecticut boycotting Illinois when Connecticut has such a law on the books right now).

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I don't know which is funnier, states like Georgia and Indiana passing laws like this when they don't have anti-discrimination laws in place to render it useful, or Hillary Clinton saying it's sad how a law like this could be passed in America when her husband signed the Federal version (or the governor of Connecticut boycotting Illinois when Connecticut has such a law on the books right now).

Georgia's version is tabled. Unless something changes in the next day or two, it seems like they may wait to fight over it again next year.

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It's BS cause we should have religious freedom but also be protected from Religion.

Also any business that benefits from public roads and public services should not be able to pick and choose who they serve if they are a protected federal class of citizen things that are not illegal like being black or being gay. The Federal Civil Rights act of 1964 prohibits this behavior. Lots of people still have the idea that businesses that serve the genral public have the right to not serve certain people based on color, sexual orientation, sex, etc when that is false.

Tough crap if your religion doesn't like gays or blacks or muslims you shouldn't have a Business that serves the public that is in a physical location or that benefits from public roads, Police services, Fire Dept services, Emergency 911 services etc.

Edited by MAD597
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I don't know which is funnier, states like Georgia and Indiana passing laws like this when they don't have anti-discrimination laws in place to render it useful, or Hillary Clinton saying it's sad how a law like this could be passed in America when her husband signed the Federal version (or the governor of Connecticut boycotting Illinois when Connecticut has such a law on the books right now).

Georgia's was rammed through initially because proponents and supporters rushed back in on break to pass it when the opposition were gone. Then another committee voted in favor of an anti-discrimination amendment to the bill which Rep. McKoon (the guy who started the bill) said, "gutted the intention of the law," and due to that it has been tabled. Frankly, the entire situation is something you'd expect from an Onion article.

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I don't know which is funnier, states like Georgia and Indiana passing laws like this when they don't have anti-discrimination laws in place to render it useful, or Hillary Clinton saying it's sad how a law like this could be passed in America when her husband signed the Federal version (or the governor of Connecticut boycotting Illinois when Connecticut has such a law on the books right now).

For me, the latter is far worse than the former. Conservatives and Republicans have long advocated allowing discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds. I disagree with it, but I understand the reasoning and values underlying it. The hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton or Connecticut, however...just ugh.

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Georgia would be stupid to pass this kind of law. Think about all of the television shows and movies that are produced and shot in Georgia. To lose all of that revenue over some dumb legislation would be idiotic. Here's a list of 29 movies and TV shows currently filming in Atlanta, and I've seen a bunch of others that were filmed in recent years.

http://www.projectcasting.com/casting-calls-acting-auditions/29-movies-and-tv-shows-now-filming-in-georgia/

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For me, the latter is far worse than the former. Conservatives and Republicans have long advocated allowing discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds. I disagree with it, but I understand the reasoning and values underlying it. The hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton or Connecticut, however...just ugh.

President Obama voted for Illinois' RFRA law, too. For what it's worth.

I'm still not sure it's worse. The Democrats are being hypocritical in the extreme, arguing that something they all did just a few years ago is now evil and hateful and bigoted when that claim scores them political points. But the Republicans in Indiana and Georgia are being downright useless, proposing legislation to ensure that religious organizations are protected from anti-discrimination laws that 1) don't exist, and 2) never will if they have anything to say about it. I can't say that's any better, really. Both sides are essentially grandstanding with no respect for principle.

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President Obama voted for Illinois' RFRA law, too. For what it's worth.

I'm still not sure it's worse. The Democrats are being hypocritical in the extreme, arguing that something they all did just a few years ago is now evil and hateful and bigoted when that claim scores them political points. But the Republicans in Indiana and Georgia are being downright useless, proposing legislation to ensure that religious organizations are protected from anti-discrimination laws that 1) don't exist, and 2) never will if they have anything to say about it. I can't say that's any better, really. Both sides are essentially grandstanding with no respect for principle.

The Federal RFRA was passed unanimously in the US House and was passed 97-3 in the US Senate before Clinton signed it. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/103/hr1308

It was largely a response to the unpopular late 80's/early 90's Supreme Court First Amendment cases regarding Native Americans wanting to protect their sacred lands and use certain illegal drugs in religious ceremonies.

Given how homosexuality was viewed by Americans in 1993, I wonder if any of the senators thought of the implications the law has today.

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The Federal RFRA was passed unanimously in the US House and was passed 97-3 in the US Senate before Clinton signed it. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/103/hr1308

It was largely a response to the unpopular late 80's/early 90's Supreme Court First Amendment cases regarding Native Americans wanting to protect their sacred lands and use certain illegal drugs in religious ceremonies.

Given how homosexuality was viewed by Americans in 1993, I wonder if any of the senators thought of the implications the law has today.

I don't know. I do know that the Clintons likely didn't view homosexuality any differently then than anyone else did. Bill Clinton signed DOMA too, and we all know what that was for.

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President Obama voted for Illinois' RFRA law, too. For what it's worth.

I'm still not sure it's worse. The Democrats are being hypocritical in the extreme, arguing that something they all did just a few years ago is now evil and hateful and bigoted when that claim scores them political points. But the Republicans in Indiana and Georgia are being downright useless, proposing legislation to ensure that religious organizations are protected from anti-discrimination laws that 1) don't exist, and 2) never will if they have anything to say about it. I can't say that's any better, really. Both sides are essentially grandstanding with no respect for principle.

I'm actually of a mixed mind after reading a politifact explanation about the difference in the Illinois and the Indiana context for their respective laws.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/mar/29/mike-pence/did-barack-obama-vote-religious-freedom-restoratio/

And based on the article, I also don't think the Indiana law would establish discrimination the way opponents are claiming. It seems the more important aspect of Indiana's laws is the lack of protection against gender and sexual identity discrimination generally and not this law specifically.

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Man, great article. I love David Brooks. I'm also pretty encouraged by how this thread has gone.

My take? I'm tired of this debate. We have far more important things to deal with than to accomodate laws that protect people's right to use extreme manifestations of their religious doctrine...so extreme as to deny basic equal rights to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. I do believe that no one has a true right to make someone sell them a cake, but if the legal extension of that is for larger business to deny health care coverage to same sex couples, that's right around the space where I draw the line. A gay couple trying to force a baker to make them a wedding cake is obviously in a very different situation than a gay couple that can't come out because they'll lose their benefits at the only job they can find.

And that's kind of where I throw my hands up. We hear ideological protestations about rights that many of us can agree on, and end up with extreme incidents, no matter ho rare, where people are using legal means to deny people what I think are basic American rights.

I think Brooks appeases the anti-gay movement, and doesn't have a direct perception of being forced to be someone he's not because the law allows other people to deny him equal rights.

I also think that many people are presenting the argument that the Federal standards tightening too far, but Brooks mentions mostly the extreme position. He acknowldegs the moderate religious view, but not the moderate opposing view.

And in actual cases of bigotry, the hammer does NOT always come down.

Overall, a really good article, though. Thanks for posting it.

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Man, great article. I love David Brooks. I'm also pretty encouraged by how this thread has gone.

My take? I'm tired of this debate. We have far more important things to deal with than to accomodate laws that protect people's right to use extreme manifestations of their religious doctrine...so extreme as to deny basic equal rights to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. I do believe that no one has a true right to make someone sell them a cake, but if the legal extension of that is for larger business to deny health care coverage to same sex couples, that's right around the space where I draw the line. A gay couple trying to force a baker to make them a wedding cake is obviously in a very different situation than a gay couple that can't come out because they'll lose their benefits at the only job they can find.

And that's kind of where I throw my hands up. We hear ideological protestations about rights that many of us can agree on, and end up with extreme incidents, no matter ho rare, where people are using legal means to deny people what I think are basic American rights.

I think Brooks appeases the anti-gay movement, and doesn't have a direct perception of being forced to be someone he's not because the law allows other people to deny him equal rights.

I also think that many people are presenting the argument that the Federal standards tightening too far, but Brooks mentions mostly the extreme position. He acknowldegs the moderate religious view, but not the moderate opposing view.

And in actual cases of bigotry, the hammer does NOT always come down.

Overall, a really good article, though. Thanks for posting it.

No problem at all. Ross Douthat had a great one in the NYT. I didn't post it because I honestly didn't think it would add to the discussion, forgive me for saying so, because too many people would halfway read it and fail to grasp his entire point. I think you'd enjoy it, but I also think it would start a troll fest on this board. For example, he said "I don’t think the issues in the wedding industry deserve the label “persecution” that some religious conservatives have slapped on them, and I don’t think the view taken by these florists/bakers/photographers is necessarily mandated by orthodox Christian belief." But I think that point would likely get lost.

Anyway, Douthat, if you read the article through, said basically it's stupid for a baker to complain about having to provide a cake for a wedding (a position I agree with), but also asked 7 questions that ranged from completely rational to fairly off the wall, but all of which were designed to test the limits of the current tension between gay rights and religious freedom. My favorite was the fourth one:

"In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?"

I'm not sure these are being thought through. It seems a shift in power has resulted in a zeal to exercise that power, with little regard for what might happen if the power ever shifts back the other direction, or in a direction no one has yet thought of.

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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Government doesn't force anyone to conform to any religious beliefs, it will not force me to violate my beliefs. That should be enough.

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