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Indiana Amends Religious Freedom Bill In Wake Of Backlash

By Selena Fragassi in News on Apr 2, 2015 5:00PM

A march on Valparaiso’s City Hall last night was the latest backlash in the growing discontent over Indiana’s Senate Bill 101 also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Nearly 200 members of the community and students from nearby Valparaiso University were joined by town Mayor Jon Costas, a Republican who has been vocal about his distaste for the mandate.

“The right thing to do is a full repeal,” he said in a statement to the Times of Northwest Indiana about SB101, which prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religions, but is believed to be a fa├žade allowing business owners to discriminate against LGBT individuals. “The best pathway to resolution is for legislators to rescind the action and to issue an apology,” said Costas.

The mayor’s vote for a repeal also asks for more to be done that just clarifying the existing law. In a new twist today, Indiana lawmakers have amended the provision to now say the law “prohibits service providers from using the [it] as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service,” said the Sun-Times noting the measure still exempts churches and affiliated schools and nonprofit religious organizations. It still has to be approved by Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the General Assembly to go into effect.

While some say the revised policy is a good first step in making amends for the controversial law that had many business leaders and entertainment figures organizing to boycott activities in the state, there is still the fact that the LGBT community is not a protected class in the state’s civil-rights law.

Still House Speaker Brian Bosma said the new language sends a strong statement that the state will not tolerate discrimination. He and other lawmakers met with members of the LGBT community to help draft the revised policy. News of the motion has spread to Arkansas as well, where Governor Asa Hutchinson has “asked lawmakers to recall [their] bill, amend it or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious-freedom law.”

“What’s clear is the governor has been listening,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, asking opponents to “keep the pressure on.”

Echoing that statement, Bryon Martin, director of multicultural programs at Valparaiso University, told the assembled marchers on Wednesday that “our work is not done yet. Every time we show up together we show unity, every time we show up together we show them we have power, and every time we change what's going on in the country that we love, in the state that we love, in the city that we love, we make this world a better place."

Martin and other marchers are looking to the state to also pass the Fairness for All Hoosiers Act, “which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens in employment, housing and public accommodations, in addition to clarifying that the new law cannot be used to undermine civil rights protections.”

Freedom Indiana is also planning a rally on Saturday to support local businesses that are "open to serving everyone."