Dems call for repeal of religious objections law – Chicago Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS— Democratic legislators say a full repeal of Indiana’s new law on religious objections is the only way to stem the widespread criticism rolling over the state as local Democratic and Republican political leaders continue to ask for changes to the law.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Monday that step is the only thing that will begin the process of healing the damage done to the state by the outcry over whether it would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Pelath says Republican legislative leaders are in a state of denial if they believe it will be enough to tweak the law with language clarifying it doesn’t allow discrimination.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the measure last week. He defended it during a television appearance Sunday but didn’t directly answer questions about whether it allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who also serves as chairman of the Lake County Democrats called the law a “terrible piece of legislation” and said he supported efforts to repeal or change it.

“It’s nothing but complete discrimination,” he said.

Buncich said he thinks the state legislators and Pence should have done more research into the law and similar state laws before it was ever passed.

“Clearly, this is a rush to judgment, and I think it’s going to do nothing but hurt the state of Indiana,” said, pointing to the national media attention it has received.

Lake County Councilman and Republican Chairman Dan Dernulc also expressed concern over the law. Although he hadn’t read the law in full yet, Dernulc said, he stressed that he was against a law that would allow discrimination.

“I can’t tell if it needs to be repealed wholesale, but I will say something needs to be done,” he said.

Dernulc did speak in favor of those who voted in favor of the bill, saying those he know are not bigots or practice discrimination in their own businesses. At the same time, he noted that there shouldn’t be so much controversy over a law.

“We cannot discriminate,” he said.

Porter County political leaders remained hopeful Monday that some change would be made.

Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas chided legislators for not focusing on more pressing matters, noted the city’s ordinance promoting equal opportunity, and encouraged businesses to post stickers, which will be available at City Hall, saying they welcome everyone.

“Although I believe the legislature and Governor enacted RFRA in good faith to safeguard religious rights and to clarify certain legal standards, I personally believe that the perceived need for this legislation fails to outweigh the confusion, uproar and discord RFRA has created both in Indiana and throughout the nation,” Costas said.

“If anything, more time should have been spent explaining the need for RFRA and clarifying its impact on all Hoosiers. Moreover, our energies should be focused on Indiana’s pressing infrastructure, education and economic development needs, and not consumed with divisive ideological legislation.”

The bill, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Thursday and which takes effect July 1, has created a maelstrom of opposition from across the country.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, doesn’t think the legislature will repeal RFRA, but hopes sexual orientation will be added as a protected class, as is the case with race and gender. Illinois has a similar clause in its RFRA bill.

“All of our citizens need to be protected from discrimination. I hope our legislature acts quickly to make that a reality,” she said.

Pence is scheduled to speak at the Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner, at 7 p.m. April 9 at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton. Party Chair Mike Simpson said he doesn’t know what the controversy may mean for those plans.

“We’ve had this set for a while. It’s hard for us to make a change or disinvite the governor from speaking, so that’s not going to happen,” he said, adding Sand Creek is private property, but protesters could gather on nearby public streets.

He is not sure what changes can be made to the bill.

“I’m not sure if the legislature is going to be able to make fixes. I’m watching it day by day to see what the best course of action is,” he said.

Porter County Democratic Party Chair Jeffrey Chidester said he feels the bill is discriminatory, no matter what its supporters say.

“As many problems as we have in Indiana, with jobs and education and the economy, we’re spending all our time on this stupid (expletive),” he said, adding Indiana has become the laughingstock of the country.

“The Republicans have boxed themselves in and Pence has egg on his face, and now they’re trying to find a way out of it,” Chidester said. “And it detracts from everything else they’ve got going on this session.”

Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler issued a statement Monday reaffirming that college’s commitment against discrimination.

“And we will continue this commitment even when our elected leaders make decisions, like the RFRA, that operate in contradiction to our values. We will seek to model for our state and nation what it can be like to live in a community of love and mutual respect,” Heckler said.

“I call upon our elected leaders and our governor not only to amend this legislation, but also to use this opportunity to advocate for the values held by all those who strive to make Indiana a welcoming and inclusive state.”

Teresa Auch Schultz, Amy Lavalley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, Post-Tribune

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