The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015

CNN is reporting that Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed Indiana Senate Bill 568 ("The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act") into law earlier today (Thursday, March 26, 2015):

Indiana's governor signs bill allowing businesses to reject gay customers

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Bill allows businesses to reject gay customers

Washington (CNN)Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of "religious freedom."

The bill has sparked an uproar among gamers and church groups that hold their conventions in Indianapolis and businesses that are threatening to pull out of the city.

Even the NCAA -- which is less than two weeks from hosting its men's basketball Final Four in Indianapolis -- was critical, saying the organization is "committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events" as it hinted the bill could damage the city's reputation as a host of major sporting events.

Jason Collins, who last year became the first openly gay active NBA player, asked Pence in a tweet whether it is "going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me & others when we come" to the Final Four in two weeks.

Still, Pence signed it in a private ceremony in his office Thursday. In a statement explaining his decision, he pointed to President Barack Obama's health care law -- which triggered a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby to ensure the company wasn't required to cover birth control through its employees' health insurance plans.

"The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action," Pence said.

The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination -- and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages -- but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence's predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.

This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the "religious freedom" bill -- in part because it didn't receive the kind of public attention the gay marriage ban had drawn until it was already close to landing on Pence's desk.

Pence said in an interview with the WIBC radio station in Indianapolis on Thursday that the new law became controversial "because of the way some in the media have reported this."

Without referencing gay rights directly, he insisted that "this is not about any contemporary issue."

"This was a measure that frankly, Indiana should have enacted many years ago," Pence said. "It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard -- it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest."

Indiana doesn't currently have a law on the books protecting Hoosiers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. But a dozen counties do -- and opponents of the "religious freedom" law have said they're worried the new measure will be used to allow businesses to get around those local rules.

"The way the media has covered this in certain quarters -- I understand the concern that people feel," Pence told WIBC, pointing to the early-1990s congressional adoption of a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

If Pence decides to mount a dark horse presidential bid -- which looks increasingly unlikely as candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker court the same supporters he would need -- the "religious freedom" bill could give him a boost among GOP primary voters, especially in socially conservative states like Iowa.

That right wing support had slipped after Pence, who built reputation during 12 years in Congress as a die-hard social conservative, broke from his party's orthodoxy earlier this year as governor and launched an expansion of Medicaid coverage -- with some conservative tweaks -- under President Barack Obama's health care law.

But signing the "religious freedom" bill could also badly damage his prospects in a general election, where polls have shown that voters increasingly oppose policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Proponents have argued the bill doesn't target gays and lesbians specifically -- but that it does protect businesses that don't support same-sex marriage from having to provide services for those ceremonies.

Other states have passed similar laws. Eighteen others have similar measures on the books, and social conservatives have been re-energized in their push for "religious freedom" laws after the Supreme Court's decision in a health care-related case that allowed Hobby Lobby and other businesses to opt not to provide insurance coverage for contraception.

Also fueling the push: The Supreme Court's expected ruling in June on whether same-sex marriage is constitutionally protected and therefore legal in all 50 states.

But Pence and Republican lawmakers are running into intense criticism -- too late to stop the legislation from advancing, but in time for Pence to feel pressure to veto the bill rather than signing it into law.

They'd hoped it would become Pence's "Jan Brewer moment" -- a reference to the Arizona Republican governor who vetoed a similar bill last year, saying "it could divide Arizona in ways that we could not even imagine and no one would ever want."

The organizers of Gen Con, which draws thousands of gamers to Downtown Indianapolis restaurants and hotels each year, said they might move the event elsewhere if Pence signs the bill into law.

"Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years," Adrian Swartout, the owner of Gen Con LLC, told Pence in a letter.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which also holds a convention in Indianapolis, told Pence it could cancel its 2017 convention there, as well.

The chief executive of tech giant Salesforce told Pence that his company -- which had bought Indianapolis-based Exact Target for $2.5 billion in 2013 -- would abandon the state and its expansion plans there if he signed the measure into law.

And the Republican mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, broke with Pence on the bill, saying it would put his city's economy at risk.

"Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents," Ballard said Wednesday in a statement. "We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here."

So here's the thing about this, folks: This was probably written as an anti-gay bill. However, as it is written, it does NOT specifically mention homosexuals AT ALL. Nor does it mention whose religion it protects.  Not sure?  Here's the full text of the bill.  You can read it for yourself.

A BILL FOR AN ACT to amend the Indiana Code concerning civilprocedure.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:
SECTION 1. IC 34-13-9 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS
ANEWCHAPTER TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE UPON PASSAGE]:
Chapter 9. Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Sec. 1. (a) As used in this chapter, "burden" means an action that directly or indirectly:
(1) constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by a person; or
(2) compels a person to take an action that is contrary to the person's exercise of religion.
(b) The term includes:
(1) withholding a benefit from a person;
(2) assessing a criminal, a civil, or an administrative penalty against a person; or
(3) excluding a person from a governmental program or denying a person access to a governmental facility.
Sec. 2. As used in this chapter, "compelling governmental interest" means a governmental interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion.
Sec. 3. (a) As used in this chapter, "exercise of religion" means the practice or observance of religion.
(b) The term includes a person's ability to:
(1) act; or
(2) refuse to act;
in a manner that is substantially motivated by the person's sincerely held religious belief, regardless of whether the religious belief is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
Sec. 4. As used in this chapter, "person" means an individual, an association, a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a church, a religious institution, an estate, a trust, a foundation, or any other legal entity.
Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, "state action" means:
(1) the implementation or application of a state or local law or policy; or
(2) the taking of any other action; by the state or a political subdivision of the state.
Sec. 6. A state action, or an action taken by an individual based on state action, may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a law or policy of general applicability, unless the state or political subdivision of the state demonstrates that applying the burden to the person's exercise of religion is:
(1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest;
(2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.
Sec. 7. (a) A person whose exercise of religion:
(1) has been substantially burdened; or
(2) is likely to be substantially burdened;
by a violation of section 6 of this chapter may assert the violation, or impending violation, as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding.
(b) A person who asserts a claim or defense under subsection (a) may obtain appropriate relief from a violation, or an impending violation, of section 6 of this chapter, including relief against the state or a political subdivision of the state. Appropriate relief
under this subsection includes any of the following:
(1) Injunctive relief.
(2) Declaratory relief.
(3) Compensatory damages.
(4) Recovery of court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.
SECTION 2.An emergency is declared for this act.

So.  The next time you're in Indiana trying to buy kosher or halal meat and you aren't Jewish or Muslim, remember that the Jewish or Muslim butcher can deny you service because it would inhibit his freedom to worship as a Jew or Muslim.  Or when you want to buy a dreamcatcher at the New Age store, the clerk can deny service to you because you aren't a New Ager.  Or when you want to buy a book about paganism and the owner won't sell it to you because you're not a pagan.  It works both ways.  Sure, it will protect those Christians who don't want to sell cakes and flowers to gay couples planning a wedding because it inhibits the practice of their Christian beliefs; but it will also protect non-Christians who don't want to sell a Christian something because it would inhibit the practice of their religious beliefs, whether those are Judeo-Christian or not. Do you see how that works?  If anyone of any religion can prove that selling something to a customer is, for any reason, a burden, that person doesn't have to sell the customer the item.

Christians: is that the kind of person Jesus commands us to be?  The person who uses our religion to hurt other people when He told us to love God and love our neighbor?  If you think homosexuality is forbidden by the Bible, fine.  But just remember that Jesus says to love one another as He loves us.  Is refusing to sell someone a cake or flowers for his wedding, even if he is marrying a man, something Jesus would call loving?

When this backfires, and it will, it will be huge.  If you think it won't backfire, just remember that the Satanists in Oklahoma are building a monument of Baphomet in front of the oklahoma Statehouse in retaliation for the Ten Commandments being put up in front of the Capitol.  Because they can.  Because their freedom of religion gives them that right.

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