Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law Indiana Gov. Mike Pence addressed the continuing controversy surrounding his state's religious freedom law Tuesday.
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Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law

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Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law

Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law

Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence addressed the continuing controversy surrounding his state's religious freedom law Tuesday.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence is still defending his state's new religious freedom bill, but today he called for changes to clarify it. There's been widespread and heated criticism of the bill, which some say can be used by people and businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith reports.

BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: Just two days ago, Governor Pence went on ABC's "This Week" to defend Indiana's new religious freedom law. The measure allows people to use their religious beliefs as a legal defense against certain government regulations. But in a performance that even Republican lawmakers criticized, the governor was unclear about the law's affects. More specifically, in a repeated and contentious back-and-forth with host George Stephanopoulos, Pence dug in.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes or no, should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?

GOVERNOR MIKE PENCE: George, you're following the mantra of the last week online, and you're trying to make this issue about something else. What I am for is protecting, at the highest standards in our courts, the religious liberty of Hoosiers.

SMITH: But today, Pence answered that question directly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So no.

PENCE: No, I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else. I abhor discrimination.

SMITH: Yet, the governor acknowledges that because of this law, similar to that in many other states, Indiana has a perception problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: I've come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.

SMITH: House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath says Governor Pence and Republicans keep pivoting back to the same position.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT PELATH: Well, it's not what it means. It's not what we meant, and saying that over and over and over is not fixing a thing.

SMITH: But the governor appears reluctant to move off the same talking point he's been repeating for days - it's not the law that's to blame for what he calls the harsh glare of criticism facing his state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: I think it's explained by the fact that this was grossly mischaracterized by advocates who opposed the bill and also, quite frankly, some very sloppy reporting for the first several days.

SMITH: But Pelath says as long as Pence keeps blaming the media and others, the so-called perception problem won't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PELATH: His problem is that he's trying to govern a state that lives in the 21st century, and he still believes it's in the 1950s.

SMITH: Senate Democratic Leader Tim Landon agrees and says the real solution is to directly protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, which Indiana currently doesn't do.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM LANDON: We know Indiana - the people of Indiana do not discriminate. We need to put that into law.

SMITH: Yet, on this issue, Governor Mike Pence has no problem giving a direct answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: I've never supported that, and I want to be clear - it's not on my agenda.

SMITH: As pressure mounts from those threatening to pull conventions and their business from the state to other governors imposing travel bans to Indiana, everyone here knows that something needs to be done quickly. But as a fix is worked out, Republican legislative leaders say neither full repeal of the law nor added protections for gays and lesbians are in the cards, leaving many Hoosiers to wonder what hand they've been dealt. For NPR News, I'm Brandon Smith in Indianapolis.

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