INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly a month after Gov. Mike Pence signed a “fix” into law to modify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, some faith leaders are crying foul.
Members of the Indiana Pastor’s Alliance said Pence and other Republican leaders betrayed the religious community when they passed the fix.
Pence asked the General Assembly to create the new legislation after a firestorm of backlash followed the passage of the original RFRA law. Opponents said they feared RFRA would allow businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers.
Pence and other Republicans said the law was never meant to allow discrimination. The revamped legislation included specific language that said RFRA could not be used for such discrimination.
But the pastors said the “fix” is discrimination against Christians.
“We witnessed a cowardly capitulation by our leadership who must now be held responsible for turning a bill designed to protect our God-given, constitutionally-enshrined liberties into what is now effectively a gay rights bill,” Alliance Executive Director Rob Johnson said.
House and Senate leaders said in an advance of Monday’s event that opponents of the RFRA fix were misreading the language. They said the law continues to protect Hoosiers who seek to live their religious beliefs.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said of the protest that, “My faith tells me to turn the other cheek and will continue to do so.”
And Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the idea that the legislature damaged religious liberty is “one of the most ignorant statements I’ve heard in a long time.”
On Monday, some RFRA opponents also attended the rally, and held up signs reading, “Indy welcomes all” behind the pastors as they spoke.
When Johnson asked the RFRA supporters not to speak during the rally, one responded by asking for a hug. Johnson agreed and also kissed the woman’s cheek.
“That’s a good public illustration to say that nothing we’re doing to them, nothing we’re doing today is about hating people who are struggling” Johnson said. “
Johnson and other Indiana pastors, including Phillip’s Temple pastor Carl Kelly, called on Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly to take a stand for religious freedom in the state.
Kelly said former Republic Sen. Richard Lugar was voted out of office because he failed to meet the needs of more conservative Republicans, including members of the tea party. Kelly said if Indiana fails to enact a stronger RFRA law, the same could happen to Pence.
“Gov. Pence, if you don’t do something to fix this fix, you’re next,” Kelly said.
Pastors from around the country, including states such as Michigan and South Carolina, said the recent events in Indiana have “motivated” them to begin working for religious liberty in their own states.
“Indiana has become one of the focal points of the nation,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s an accident, it’s a prophetic act that we have centered where we are.”
Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.