Indiana lawmakers hurry to ‘clarify’ religious freedom law amid protests – Fox News

Republican legislators in Indiana said Monday that they were working on adding language to the state’s controversial new religious freedom law that would make clear that the measure does not permit discrimination against gays and lesbians. 

The effort is the latest attempt to quell a firestorm that has led two governors to ban publicly funded travel to the Hoosier State and threatens to overshadow this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, which will be held in Indianapolis. 

As signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week, the measure prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The law’s definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

“What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “What instead has come out is a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent.”

Bosma acknowledged a major concern is whether businesses will now be legally permitted to deny services to some people, as a result of the law, and that even he is unclear.

“We don’t believe that will be the effect,” he said. “We are looking at options to clarify that that’s the case.”

The efforts fell flat with Democrats, who called for a repeal, and even some Republicans.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, said the law threatens to undermine the city’s economic growth and reputation as a convention and tourism destination and called for lawmakers to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana civil-rights laws.

“I call upon Governor Pence and the Indiana Legislature to fix this law. Either repeal it or pass a law that protects all who live, work and visit Indiana. And do so immediately. Indianapolis will not be defined by this,” Ballard said.

After a two-hour private meeting of House Republicans, Bosma said Monday that repealing the law isn’t “a realistic goal at this point.”

“I’m looking for a surgical solution, and I think the least intrusive surgery is to clarify that (the law) cannot be used to support the denial of goods, facilities or services to any member of the public,” he said.

Pence, who defended the law during a television appearance Sunday, canceled scheduled appearances Monday night and Tuesday, in part because of planned protests.

In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, Pence said “the law is not a ‘license to discriminate'” and reflects federal law. But the Affordable Care Act, he said, “renewed concerns about government infringement on deeply held religious beliefs.”

“Faith and religion are important values to millions of Indiana residents,” he said. “With the passage of this legislation, Indiana will continue to be a place that respects the beliefs of every person in our state.”

Meanwhile, sports officials planned an “Indy Welcomes All” campaign ahead of this weekend’s Final Four games. The NCAA, which is based in the state capital, repeatedly expressed concerns over the law, with organization President Mark Emmert saying “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said they were imposing bans on state-funded travel to Indiana. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who is openly gay, issued a similar ban via executive order over the weekend.

“Seattleites know that discrimination has no place in our city,” Murray said in a statement. “That’s just equality 101.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a letter to Indiana corporations saying Virginia is a business-friendly state that does “not discriminate against our friends and neighbors,” while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent letters to more than a dozen Indiana businesses, urging them to relocate to a “welcoming place to people of all races, faiths and countries of origin.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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