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April 1, 2015

Religious freedom bill in Indiana causes backlash

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a state bill into law this week that proponents say will protect religious freedom in the state, but that others criticize as enabling discrimination.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.” The bill has prompted a wide backlash along with confusion over whether it was created to legalize discrimination.

Critics say the current version of the bill allows businesses to refuse service to people that do not align with their religious beliefs, specifically LGBT individuals. Some proponents of the bill say it would “protect” the religious freedom of Christian businesses who do not want to serve married same-sex couples, in a state where same-sex marriage became legal in 2014.

Pence has struggled to answer critics of the bill but has said it is not intended to aid discrimination. Pence said that the law’s language will be “clarified” in the coming days to ensure that it “does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”

The bill has economic implications, with some businesses such as Angie’s List saying they will no longer operate in Indiana or hold company events there.

The issue has forced a spotlight on a normally quiet state at an important cultural moment, according to NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins, reporting from Indianapolis. “I think there is a sense in this town that they’re now at the crossroads of the debate over rights in America,” she said.

The Arkansas legislature also passed a similar bill this week, sending it to governor Asa Hutchinson to sign or veto.


Warm up questions
  1. By what process does a state bill become law?
  2. What does it mean to have religious freedom? What are some ways people exercise religious freedom in the U.S.?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Which individuals could be affected by the law in Indiana? Which individuals would not be affected? Why?
  2. Why do you think this law was created? How do you think this law and the national movement for LGBT equal rights are related?
  3. The Indiana law currently bans the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion,” a phrase that has caused confusion and backlash. How do you interpret the meaning of that phrase? How would you clarify it, and why?
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