One week after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a retreat.
Indiana lawmakers claimed Hoosier Hospitality returned with an amendment to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Thursday.
The following is an account of the Indiana General Assembly’s Holy Thursday activities to stem the one week national firestorm against the RFRA.
It appeared in the Shelbyville News and is reprinted with permission of the editor.
By Paul E. Gable
Despite a morning press conference Thursday where members of the General Assembly said something needed to be done concerning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there was still much debate about what exactly that was.
The Indiana House voted 66-30 to alter the bill, removing fears of discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Senate voted 34-16 in favor of the measure. The measure now moves to Gov. Mike Pence to see if he will sign the fixes.
The move was part of a fluid situation inside the Indiana Statehouse Thursday, which began with a press conference featuring Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R- Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. The two said they would present a proposal to lawmakers. The proposal included language that the bill cannot be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
As a result, Indiana does not have a statewide nondiscrimination law on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, something Long said would be examined next year.
That did not sit well with Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director, who issued the following statement, “Thousands of Hoosiers and millions of Americans spoke loudly and clearly that discrimination cannot be tolerated in any form, and that outcry has made all the difference. Today, the harm has lessened, but we have not yet reached the day when LGBT Hoosiers can be assured that they can live their lives free of discrimination.”
Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, businesses and individuals cannot use the law as a defense to refuse services to any member of the public. However, it did not add sexual orientation as a protected class in Indiana.
“Hoosier Hospitality has to be restored,” Bosma said.
Bosma said many conversations had been held with civic and business leaders since last week.
“Over the last week we’ve spent a great deal of time with the corporate and civic leadership of the state to ensure we can all land on the same page and let every Hoosier know we value you,” Bosma said.
Long said Senate Bill 101 was never intended to discriminate.
“Indiana’s RFRA law does not and will not be able to discriminate against anyone at any time. Hoosier Hospitality is not just a saying, it is a way of life here and I hope people understand that again,” Long said during the press conference.
The discussions continued into the afternoon on the Senate floor as one Senator after another approached the microphone to share views on the bill, and vowing to take care of the “crisis in the state of Indiana.”
When the dust settled, anti-discrimination safeguards passed the Senate by a vote of 34-16. Sens. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, and Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, both of whom represent Shelby County, voted in favor of the measure.
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, the author of Senate Bill 101, said he introduced the bill and he takes responsibility for that.
“If you want to punish me for it, you may go right ahead,” Schneider said.
Schneider said he decided to introduce the bill after the Supreme Court issued its Hobby Lobby ruling and after a situation in Texas where five churches were subpoenaed to turn over copies of sermons.
“So we looked at what protections do we have in Indiana. This bill was designed to support, bolster and buttress religious freedom,” said Schneider, who added his intention was never to discriminate. “We don’t discriminate. We don’t hate. It is necessary that we make a clear statement to the world of who we really are.”
Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, reminded those that a year ago, the Senate voted on HJR-3, which was aimed at banning same-sex marriage.
“As opposed to SB 101, it actually had something to do with gay marriage. Anyway, I struggle with that vote. It is my personal belief and the belief of my church that marriage is defined as the union between a man and a woman. I set my personal political interests aside and did what I thought was in the best interest of the state of Indiana. I voted no,” Miller said.
Miller said the perception that Indiana was not open to everyone was “intentionally fabricated for political purposes.”
“The fact is that Indiana is a welcoming, hospitable, friendly and tolerant state,” Miller said.
Several senators spoke of Jesus and quoted Biblical scripture while delivering testimony.
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, was one of those senators, who shared the stories of Jesus entering Jericho and the book of Revelation.
“There is no law that I find that I feel is more important than a First Amendment right and churches have it and will still have it, even if we don’t pass this. They don’t have to marry people they don’t want, they don’t have to let people use their facilities if they don’t want,” Taylor said.
Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, said Indiana has been a “casualty” over the past week.
“I reject discrimination in all forms, regardless of your race, color, religion, ethnicity, and let me be very clear on this, your sexual orientation, and I would have supported that change, but that wasn’t good enough for some people. They wanted LGBT to be a protected class. I would have supported that, but that wasn’t good enough. I find myself having to vote against this report today,” Waltz said.
(Ed. Note – Paul E. Gable is the editor of the Shelbyville News (IN). He is a native of Loris, SC and a graduate of Newberry College.)