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Indiana lawmakers propose fix to RFRA law, but gay groups object

(Editor note: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tweeted to the world on Thursday afternoon: "I've signed #RFRA clarification bill. Resolving controversy/making clear every person feels welcome & respected in our state is best for IN." Critics said the clarification bill doesn't go far enough to prevent discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers.)

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – The Indiana legislature on Thursday morning proposed a limited fix that would amend the recently passed, so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), but Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign say it doesn't go far enough to solve the state's lack of protections against LGBT discrimination.

Introduced by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Leader Pro Tem Dan Long, SB 50 takes an important step to reduce the threat to LGBT Hoosiers but fails actually to protect them from discrimination or to prevent use of the RFRA to justify other harms.

At a news conference, Long tried to convince a skeptical media that the law never meant to be discriminatory.

"It was never intended to discriminate against anyone," Long said. "That perception led to the national protests we've seen."

Perception is reality, however, and Indiana has taken a bashing for passing a broad law that had little to do with the federal RFRA, which was very limited in scope.

The Lambda Legal response to the proposed fix

Jennifer C. Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, says the proposed fix is a good first step.

“This bill reduces the threat but is far less than this situation requires. It recognizes there are problems, but does not fix it as LGBT Hoosiers and others urgently need," Pizer said.

"Now that there's broad public understanding that gay and transgender people in much of Indiana are terribly vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination by businesses, refusal of housing, and being fired just for being who they are -- and even Gov. Pence has agreed that that is wrong — that unacceptable situation requires a full solution.

"We've provided multiple options of straightforward bill language. This is not a complicated or novel task. Many states have done it with only positive results economically and socially. The time is now. America is watching," Pizer said.

"Indiana's RFRA is an ill-conceived law that invites religiously motivated refusals to comply with laws that protect everyone. The state’s elected leadership today has taken one step to reduce these refusal problems by amending the RFRA to ensure compliance with civil rights laws. Now they need to complete the fix by actually providing those basic protections that LGBT people need to be equal and safe in the Hoosier State, and by further amending RFRA to prevent it from being used to excuse any harm to other people.

“The local voices, organizations as well as national business and government leaders who have been insisting on a full and proper response in Indiana are right. This job should be finished before this legislative session ends and Governor Pence leaves on vacation if state leadership wants to show their claims about opposing discrimination are sincere," Pizer said.

“Freedom Indiana, ACLU of Indiana and the chorus of business leaders and thousands of individuals have raised an inspiring, urgent call that Indiana should reject discrimination in deed as well as word, and should honor faith, love and commitment by making the Hoosier State welcoming and secure for everyone.
"We will continue to work in Indiana and nationwide to ensure that LGBT people are not placed in harm’s way by bills that invite discrimination against them. And, we urge anyone who experiences discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity explained as due to others’ religious beliefs to contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk.”

The Human Rights Campaign responds

Facing tremendous economic damage and mounting public pressure, particularly from leading businesses both in and outside of the state, Indiana lawmakers today moved to limit the scope and application of the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in important ways. However, the proposal fails to explicitly ensure that the RFRA won’t be used to undermine the full scope of Indiana existing non-discrimination laws.

The proposal also falls far short of adding non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers to the state’s civil rights laws, and future legislative sessions have an obligation to return to fix both the RFRA and this glaring hole in Indiana’s laws protecting their own citizens.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, reacted to the proposed fix.

"After a historic week where hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers and countless more leaders from Silicon Valley to the Brickyard 400 all spoke up to condemn SB 101, one thing is clear: the people of Indiana will never allow their state to be a home to discrimination. Though this legislation is certainly a step back from the cliff, this fight is not over until every person in Indiana is fully equal under the law. At the federal level and in all 50 states, the time has come in this country for comprehensive legal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people that cannot be undermined," he said.

From the CEOs of some of the largest corporations in the world to small business owners in places like Evansville who declared they were "open for all," from four Indy PFLAG moms who gathered nearly 3,000 people on the steps of the Capitol last Saturday to the unprecedented full front page editorial from the Indy Star, to the nearly 80,000 emails sent to the Governor from people across the nation, the outcry of fair-minded Americans could not be ignored.
Major businesses – including Salesforce, Eli Lilly and Company, Alcoa, Cummins, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the NCAA, and more – played a lead role in negotiating the new measure that clarifies that the new law cannot be used to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations, employment, and housing.

Statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers still do not exist, meaning discrimination is still legal in most of the state. Businesses in Indiana have made it clear that the state must pass a statewide non-discrimination law that protects all Hoosiers from discrimination and ensures that Indiana is seen as a welcoming place to visit and do business.

Wednesday, in response to a host of anti-LGBT bills pending or signed into law in states around the country like the new law in Indiana, tech industry leaders signed an unprecedented joint statement calling for the addition of non-discrimination protections for LGBT people to state and federal civil rights laws.

HRC is a founding member of the Freedom Indiana coalition—a campaign of state and national organizations who worked to try to stop the anti-LGBT bill from becoming law.

ACLU issues a statement

The ACLU has issued the following statement in response to the Indiana legislature proposing amendments to address the harmful effects of SB 101, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill:

“The events in Indiana over the last week represent a dramatic change in the way our country reacts to discrimination hiding under the guise of religion.

The Indiana legislature and the governor made a terrible and dangerous mistake, and they were met with widespread condemnation and a backlash that has hurt their state’s reputation and its economy.

The outcry – from businesses, religious organizations, community leaders, and millions of people inside Indiana and around the country – forced a change to the law.

Because of these changes, the harm of the law has been lessened, but there remain significant problems that must be addressed.

With these amendments, the RFRA cannot be used as a defense in some kinds of discrimination cases. That’s a major improvement. But it still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives. While this is one piece of the solution, it is incomplete. Religious freedom is important, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others, discriminate, or cause harm.

This national conversation has shined a light on the fact that Indiana – as well as twenty-seven other states – do not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, meaning that discrimination is still legal in most of the country.

The work to stop these harms begins – but does not end – with a renewed push to update Indiana law to include protections for gay and transgender people, and ensure that no one is denied housing, turned away from a business, or fired from a job simply because of who they are or who they love.

People across this country have sent a strong message that they will not stand by silently while their friends, neighbors and co-workers are put at risk of discrimination.

That’s a lesson we hope other states hear loud and clear.”