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Critics: Religious Liberty Bill Discriminates Against Homosexuals


In this country, a number of conventions and a major amateur sports organization are raising concerns about the state of Indiana. Indianapolis hosts college basketball's Final Four this year. It's also headquarters of the NCAA, which runs that tournament and which is among those speaking up about a new Indiana law. Governor Mike Pence signed a law described as protecting religious liberty. It came after same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana. The question is whether the law protects businesspeople from taking part in acts their faith forbids or makes it easier to legally discriminate. NPR's Cheryl Corley has the background.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Governor Pence signed Indiana's new law in a private ceremony, making the state the 20th so far to enact what's called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It's modeled after federal legislation and prohibits state and local laws that, quote, "substantially burden the ability of people, businesses and associations to practice their religious beliefs." And Pence strongly backed the legislation.


GOVERNOR MIKE PENCE: Many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.

CORLEY: Critics charge this legislation is actually about discrimination against gays and lesbians. Governor Pence never mentioned same-sex marriage when he talked about the religious liberties bill during a press conference. He said the legislation is misunderstood in part because of the way it's been portrayed by the media.


PENCE: If I thought this bill legalized discrimination, I would've vetoed it.

CORLEY: While Pence says the bill was just long overdue, Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, says the timing of the legislation made its intent clear.

JANE HENEGAR: This was introduced as a backlash to individuals in Indiana achieving marriage equality, and their protestations to the contrary - there's no denying that timing.

CORLEY: Reaction to the decision was swift. Indiana's Right To Life president said it would give abortion opponents legal recourse. Mark Fisher, with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, says the law was unnecessary and divisive. He says unlike other states, Indiana does not include sexual orientation in any of its antidiscrimination laws. Fisher says the chamber began hearing from businesses and organizations right away.

MARK FISHER: Certainly the most vocal so far has been Salesforce.

CORLEY: Salesforce, a cloud computing company, acquired an Indianapolis-based software firm last year. And Salesforce's CEO said he would no longer send customers or employees to Indiana. The NCAA, which will hold its Final Four basketball tournament in Indianapolis next week, says it will examine how the new law will affect future events. Fisher said the chamber also heard from Gen Con, which holds the largest tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis.

FISHER: A very large economic impact and they have made it clear that the passage of this bill will weigh into their decisions.

CORLEY: Last year, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation after major corporations criticized that state's effort to pass a religious liberty law. Governor Pence says he'll reach out to businesses that have concerns about Indiana's new law. Meantime, similar bills have been introduced in more than a dozen other states. Cheryl Corley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.