Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) promised Tuesday to change the religious liberties bill that has been criticized as anti-gay. Here is the full text of his remarks.
PENCE: Thank you all for coming.
It’s been a tough week here in the Hoosier State, but we’re going to move forward, because I — as governor, I have the great privilege of serving the greatest people on Earth, the people of Indiana.
Let me say, first and foremost, I was proud to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week.
I believe religious liberty — as President Clinton said when he signed the federal law in 1993, I believe religious liberty is our first freedom, and it is vital to millions of Americans who cherish faith, as I and my family do.
But it’s also vital to the framework of freedom in our nation, and this legislation was designed to ensure the vitality of religious liberty in the Hoosier State. I believe Hoosiers are entitled to the same protections that have been in place in our federal courts for the last 20-plus years and is the law in 30 other states.
But clearly, clearly, there’s been misunderstanding and confusion and mischaracterization of this law, and I come before you today to say how we’re going to address that.
We’ve been working over the last several days literally around the clock and talking with people across the State of Indiana, talking to business leaders and talking to organizations around the country who have spent time in Indiana, enjoy the hospitality of the people of Indiana, and we’ve been listening.
But let me say, first and foremost, as I’ve said to each one of them, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was about religious liberty, not about discrimination.
As I said last week, had this law been about legalizing discrimination, I would’ve vetoed it. This law does not give anyone a license to discriminate. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana does not give anyone the right to deny services to anyone in this state. It is simply a balancing test used by our federal courts and jurisdictions across the country for more than two decades.
Let me say, on the — the subject of the bill itself, I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate or right to deny services to gays, lesbians or anyone else in this state. And it certainly wasn’t my intent.
But I can appreciate that that’s become the perception, not just here in Indiana but all across this country, and we need to confront that and confront it boldly in a way that respects the interests of all involved.
A personal reflection for a moment, if I can.
I abhor discrimination. The way I was raised was like most Hoosiers, with the Golden Rule, that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
And I believe in my heart of hearts that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe. And I believe every Hoosier shares that conviction.
But as I said, we’ve — we’ve got a perception problem here, because some people have a different view. And we intend to correct that.
After much reflection and in consultation with leadership of the General Assembly, I have come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.
Let me say that again: I think it would be helpful, and I’d like to see on my desk before the end of this week, legislation that is added to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.
We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business. We want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it’s our way of life. It’s the reason why people come here from around the world, and they come back again and again and again, because Hoosiers are the kindest, most generous, most decent people in the world.
Let me say I believe this is a clarification, but it’s also a fix. It’s a fix of a bill that through mischaracterization and confusion has come to be greatly misunderstood, and I’m determined to address this this week and to move forward as a state.
And I know we will. Indiana has come under the harsh glare of criticism from around the country. And some of us get paid to be under that harsh glare and that criticism, so we don’t complain about it. But the things that have been said about our state have been at times deeply offensive to me. And I will continue to use every effort to defend the good and decent people of Indiana.
I think it’s important that we take this action this week. I have spoken to legislative leaders all the way through the last hour, and we’re gonna be working to make that happen.
With that, I’ll be happy to take questions.
PENCE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The house speaker from your own party criticized how you answered the question this weekend, so I’d like to ask you again, under this law, is it legal for a florist to deny services to a same- sex couple, citing her religious beliefs.
PENCE: This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.
And, look, I could have handled that better this weekend. But I — going into that interview this weekend, I was just determined to set the record straight about what this law really is.
I am very pleased that the reporting about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has significantly improved over the last several days. I think there is a growing public understanding that Indiana has passed a law here that mirrors the federal law that President Clinton signed and it mirrors the laws and statutes of some 30 states. I’m grateful for that.
But on Sunday my intention was to set that record straight, but I want to be clear on that point. And thank you for the opportunity.
PENCE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you regret having signed this bill?
PENCE: Absolutely not.
Religious liberty is vitally important in the life of our nation, and to ensure that Hoosiers have the same level of scrutiny when they believe their religious liberty is intruded upon in our state courts that they already have in our federal courts, and that 30 other states have already had for some time, was simply the right thing to do. It’s that important. And I was pleased to have signed it and I stand by the law.
QUESTION: (inaudible) opposed to giving protected status (inaudible)?
PENCE: Jim, I’ve never supported that. And I want to be clear. I…
It’s not on my agenda, but I think it’s a completely separate question.
I mean, we are talking about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is about restoring the highest level of scrutiny in our state courts when matters of government action intrude upon the religious liberty of Hoosiers.
That’s where I want to stay focused. But I do believe that moving legislation this week that would make it clear this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone would be appropriate.
QUESTION: What would the legislation say?
PENCE: That’s still under discussion and consideration.
PENCE: But that’s the direction.
QUESTION: Governor, are you expecting a type of a backlash (inaudible)?
PENCE: Was I expecting this kind of backlash?
Heavens, no. To be candid with you, you know, when I first heard about the legislation, I heard that it was already federal law more than 20 years, heard that it was the law through statute and court decisions in 30 jurisdictions, and I — in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court case, the Hobby Lobby case, I just thought it was an appropriate addition to Indiana statutes.
It moved through the legislative process, with good debate but not a considerable amount of controversy. And so candidly, when this erupted last week, even though I’d made my position clear weeks ago that I would sign the bill, without much discussion, I was taken aback.
I — and I have to tell you that the gross mischaracterizations about this bill early on and some of the reckless reporting by some in the media about what this bill was all about was deeply disappointing to me and to millions of Hoosiers.
But we’re making progress on that. We’re — I think it’s — we are turning back. I am grateful for the expressions of support that are being given from around the country, including many in the media that are articulating what this is all about. And we’ll continue to move forward on that.
A lot of concerns in a lot of municipalities (inaudible) Indiana is the exemption of (inaudible) human rights (inaudible). So just to make it clear, (inaudible) defense in the cases of (inaudible), are you (inaudible) to making sure that line (inaudible) specific in those — in whatever (inaudible) local human rights (inaudible) are (inaudible)?
PENCE: Let me say the smear here against this bill is that it created a license to discriminate or a license to deny services. And that’s just completely false and baseless.
Professor Conkle (ph), who I quoted in my editorial this morning in “The Wall Street Journal,” said it well. This is not a license — there’s no license to discriminate. And so I think the — I think the proper legislative remedy is to focus on the perception that has been created by the mischaracterization that — and to make it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.
QUESTION: Governor, (inaudible)…
PENCE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: (inaudible). Speaking of the backlash, (inaudible) talking about those from 1993, those (inaudible) in the late ’90s or the 2000s, whole (inaudible) tremendously nationally and in Indiana.
Do you think (inaudible)?
PENCE: I would leave it — I think the — you mean the public — the public reaction?
PENCE: I think it’s explained by the fact that this was grossly mischaracterized by advocates who oppose the bill and also by, frankly, some very sloppy reporting for the first several days. So I really do believe that.
I mean, look, if I read some of the stuff about this bill, I would’ve had the same concern that millions of Hoosiers have had and people across the country have had. It just isn’t so.
I mean, when President Clinton signed this bill in 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union said then that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was the most important legislation considered by Congress since the First Amendment was approved. OK?
When then State Senator Barack Obama voted for this bill in Illinois, it was with broad and bipartisan support.
One of the great pieces of — of the legislative history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is that it’s been a way of bringing people together, consensus. This has been broadly supported on a bipartisan basis.
So I — I would suggest to you that what explains the — the concerns that have been expressed across our state and across this nation is the mischaracterization. And in a very real sense, that’s why I think we need to focus specifically on this perception that this creates some license to discriminate, and that’s what I’m calling on the legislature to do.
PENCE: I — I think that the language being worked out. OK?
What I want to make sure is that it is clear to Hoosiers, which are the people that I serve, and frankly, clear to anyone that would come to visit our state that there is, in this legislation, no license to discriminate, no right to deny services. And I think we can — I think we can develop that language.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) issued an e-mail that his supporters are saying that (OFF-MIKE). PENCE: Look, this — this law does not give anyone a license to discriminate. This law that I signed last week does not give anyone the right to deny services.
The language that I’m talking about adding, I believe would be consistent with what the general assembly intended and certainly what I intended in this case.
PENCE: Back there. Back there.
PENCE: I’m — I’m calling on the general assembly to send me a bill that focuses on the issue here, that focuses on, frankly, the smear that’s been leveled against this law and against the people of Indiana, and that is that somehow, through our legislative process, we enacted legislation that created a license to discriminate.
That — that is — that is so offensive to me as a Hoosier, and I know it’s offensive — and I know it’s offensive to people across the State of Indiana that we have to correct that, first, just because it’s not true.
PENCE: And secondly, we have to correct that perception because it has to do with the perception of our — our state and our businesses.
PENCE: I just think we need to make it very clear, irrespective of whether those ordinances exist in a community or not, that this law gives businesses a right to deny services to anyone. OK? And — and — and that’s what I have to say about that.
PENCE: The intent of the law…
PENCE: Well, the intent of the law when President Clinton signed it, the intent of the law when I signed it, was to give the courts in our state the highest level of scrutiny in cases where people feel that their religious liberty is being infringed upon by government action.
QUESTION: Governor (inaudible).
PENCE: I’m sorry, let’s go here.
QUESTION: You talked about the perceptions out there, the smear. How does Indiana, the state of Indiana get its good name back?
PENCE: Well, first, the state of Indiana has a good name. This law has been smeared.
But, look, we’re gonna mark our 200th anniversary next year. And the name and reputation of the people of Indiana is strong and secure.
But the reputation of this law and the intentions of our legislature have been called into question. And I believe we need to deal with it, and I believe we need to deal with it this week, and we will. We will fix this and we will move forward.
PENCE: That’s what — that’s what — that’s what Hoosiers — that’s what Hoosiers do.
QUESTION: Can the mayor, Thomas (inaudible) because he’s embarrassed to stage (inaudible). What are your thoughts about that?
PENCE: No comment.
QUESTION: What exactly do you want to see in this (inaudible) for a clarification? What are you looking for?
PENCE: Well, I want to make it clear in the RFRA law that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone, that this is about — and I’ve said before to people, you know, and I want to stipulate the coverage on this has gotten better and more fair, OK? But early on there was some really reckless and irresponsible reporting about this.
But, I just would submit to you that it’s important that we address the principal allegation here with legislation in this law that makes it clear that it does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.
QUESTION: (inaudible) Can you cite an article, can you cite a report that (inaudible)?
PENCE: Maureen, I wasn’t talking about you.
QUESTION: OK. Thank you.
PENCE: And, frankly, can I just — can I just say this? I don’t want to let the Indiana press off the hook here, but I will anyway, I think the Indiana press has had this right from early on, but that some of the national reporting on this has been ridiculous.
QUESTION: Could you (inaudible) cite a specific story?
PENCE: I — I encourage you to do a quick Google search on license to discriminate business.
PENCE: You’ll find all of it.
QUESTION: When you state such similar laws…
PENCE: Yes, sir?
QUESTION: (inaudible) economic quality (ph). You had 90 CEOs just yesterday (inaudible)?
PENCE: Well, I’ve been on the phone, talking to business leaders, our team’s been talking to business leaders. I’ve been reaching out to the leaders of associations and corporations around the country, just setting the record straight about what this law actually does and what our intention is in passing it, and our determination to correct the perception that’s taken hold.
QUESTION: Governor, you said in your press conference last week that this was a long time coming; the federal bill was signed into law in 1983. Why did Indiana act now?
PENCE: Yeah, it’s a good question.
PENCE: Well, I think the more relevant event was the Hobby Lobby case by the Supreme Court which is a case in point of the value of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It really is.
PENCE: The Obamacare was passed into law. It included mandates on health care coverage for businesses. And Hobby Lobby, and I also might add the University of Notre Dame, among others, filed federal lawsuits to challenge Obamacare under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Supreme Court in a majority opinion last year upheld the right of a private business owner under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, citing the act. And — but here’s — here’s the background. In 1993, the federal law was signed by President Clinton. In 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the act did not apply to states that did not have their own statute. And that’s why you have 19 states that have adopted statutes. You have about 11 other states that have adopted it in their case law, this balancing test, this standard.
Indiana never did. And so in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, to ensure that Hoosiers in our state courts have the same level of scrutiny when their religious liberty they believe is infringed upon. The general assembly moved this legislation. And that was the precipitating event.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Senator (inaudible) said (inaudible) and (inaudible) support (inaudible) he described it (inaudible) are saying (inaudible).
PENCE: People are entitled to their opinions. But this law does not create a license to discriminate and this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone. I think it would be helpful if the general assembly were to get legislation to my desk that made that clear. And made that clear in the statute.
QUESTION: (inaudible) court cases where (inaudible).
PENCE: I didn’t hear the first part of your question, Tony. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This law says (inaudible) where the government (inaudible) the law (inaudible)?
PENCE: The purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is to give the people of this country the opportunity to go into our courts, state now, and federal for more than 20 years, where they believe that government action has imposed and impinged upon their religious liberty. That’s the foundation of this idea.
This is about — this is about restraining government overreach. And I — I want to say again the reason why this was such a broad and bipartisan measure over much of the last two decades is because every American cherishes religious liberty. We all understand the importance of the freedom of conscience. It’s enshrined in our Constitution. It’s enshrined in the constitution of the state of Indiana.
And that’s what this is about. And — but look, I — I understand that the perception of this has, you know, has gone far afield from what the law really is. We’ve been doing our level-best to correct that perception, however imperfectly. And we’ll continue to do that.
I want to say I am extremely grateful for voices around the country who’ve stepped up and stood by Indiana as we stand by this law. But that being said, as governor of the state of Indiana, I believe it would be the right thing to do to move legislation that would make it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.
John, do you have one?
QUESTION: Governor, (inaudible) your conversation with the business leaders (inaudible), are you confident that this (inaudible)?
PENCE: Those conversations are ongoing. And — but I’m — you know, I remain — I remain very hopeful that if we focus on the principal misperception, that — that we will garner support. We will restore confidence. And we’ll be able to move forward.
QUESTION: (inaudible) that (inaudible) governor (inaudible) also true (inaudible) statewide nondiscrimination law (inaudible).
PENCE: Well, I think — I think a number of the 30 states that have this standard in their courts are also in the same position Indiana is in and the same position the federal government’s in in terms of protected status.
PENCE: But let me say with great respect, I think that’s a separate issue. All right? It’s not my position. I’m not advocating for it. I understand some people are, but that’s a separate question that ought to be considered separate from this idea of religious liberty and — and that we will give our courts in Indiana, and have given our courts in Indiana, the ability to discern with the highest level of scrutiny where the people of our state believe that government action has intruded upon their religious liberty.
PENCE: Right here. She’s — she’s right here.
PENCE: I’m sorry, say again.
PENCE: Why is it contained?
PENCE: Well, the — you would have to speak to the Indiana General Assembly and the members who crafted the legislation.
I’m pleased to support it, to answer the legislative-history question. I — I believe it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.
PENCE: Go ahead. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) should it be legal in the State of Indiana to discriminate against gays and lesbians? What do you say to that?
PENCE: I don’t support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else.
QUESTION: So no?
PENCE: No. I — I don’t support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else. I abhor discrimination. I want to say this. No one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. I believe it with all my heart.
This issue of discrimination has been anthem throughout my life. I was — I started out in politics as a Democrat when I was in high school, and was the Youth Democrat Party coordinator in my hometown. Not exactly a community organizer, but we worked door to door.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was one of the heroes in my youth. He’s one of my heroes to this day.
Five years ago, John Lewis approached me on the floor and asked if I would co-chair — or co-host the annual pilgrimage to Selma with him, and it was one of the greatest honors that I had during my 12 years in Congress.
We felt so strongly about it that not only did my wife go with me, but our three teenage kids went with us. It was 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
The night before in Montgomery, we sat in Dr. King’s church. We talked to people who had been there, and we were deeply moved by the courage and faith of the people who were there.
But I will always count one of the greatest privileges of my life that on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I was walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with John Lewis.
I think that’s probably what’s been most grievous to me about the debate the last week, is that I’m very typical in Indiana. Hoosiers are a loving, kind, generous, decent and tolerant people. We are known all over the world for that. And I’m just one of them.
And — and so the suggestion that because we passed a law to strengthen the foundation of religious liberty in our state courts, that we had in some way created a license to discriminate is deeply offensive to me, deeply offensive to millions of Hoosiers, and we’re going to correct it and move forward.
PENCE: The difference in what?
QUESTION: Why would they feel that this bill needs to be fixed (OFF-MIKE) so clearly, they’re not following (OFF-MIKE).
So what’s their contribution (ph)?
PENCE: Well, as — I don’t want to talk about private conversations or interaction, but I think we all understand that — that this is a perception problem, and we need to deal with it. And we need to deal with it because it’s the right thing to do, and we need to deal with it so that everybody around the country and around the world knows that India’s a welcoming place to everybody. And I agree. We’ve got to correct that perception. And the whole debate about how we got here, you know, we are where we are. And as CEO of the state of Indiana, I’m determined to bring people together and figure it out, solve it and move forward.
MODERATOR: (inaudible) last question.
QUESTION: Do you personally believe that (inaudible)?
PENCE: This law does not give a license to discriminate. It does not give a license to deny services.
PENCE: I don’t support discrimination against anyone.
The question that you posed, though, I believe is — it’s — we’re dealing here in a free society with always a careful balancing of interests. And the facts and circumstances of each case determine the outcome.
What this legislation does, what it did when President Clinton signed it into law in 1993 and what it — what it served in the some 30 states where it’s been the law, is provide a framework for determining whether or not government action puts a substantial burden on a person’s religious liberty.
Now, it is counterbalanced against whether there is a compelling interest, OK?
So first, the first question is, in any case, does the — does the government action place a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion? Under this standard, as it’s been applied for decades, the next question is, is there a compelling state interest?
And what courts have found without exception over the last 20- plus years is that the state has a compelling interest in combating discrimination. And I support that interpretation.
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