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Indiana Governor Reaffirms Support For Criticized Religious Freedom Law


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.

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