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Religious Freedom bill stirs Hoosier uproar

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he wanted to clarify his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, defending the law he signed last week as not discriminatory. In the last few days, gay rights groups have protested while high-profile companies have come out against the bill, with potential economic consequences for the state. Political editor Lisa Desjardins updates Judy Woodruff.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now the fight over religious freedom and discrimination.

    Late today, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed its own controversial law and the governor has indicated he will sign it.

    NewsHour political editor Lisa Desjardins is in Indiana this week, where there’s been an uproar over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, that many claim will allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

    Indiana’s governor tried to answer critics this morning.

  • GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) Indiana:

    Let me say, first and foremost, as I have 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 have vetoed it.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Indiana Governor Mike Pence took 37 minutes to try and roll back five days of questions about whether he signed an anti-gay law.

  • GOV. MIKE PENCE:

    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.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    As the Indiana Republican aimed to define his new law as not discriminatory, Hoosiers were at lunch, and less certain about how to digest their governor’s words.

  • MAN:

    He still hasn’t — he still hasn’t said what he’s going to do.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The news conference played on TVs usually reserved for football or music videos at Olly’s sports bar in Indianapolis.

  • MAN:

    I think he talks in circles. I think he realizes he has made a mistake. A lot of us believe that this is truly a backlash for the gay and lesbian marriage laws.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    All of this is happening as, and in large part is boiling because, the pinnacle of all college sporting events, the NCAA Final Four championship, is set to begin this weekend in Indianapolis.

    And that put an extra spotlight on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On Sunday, Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”

  • GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC News:

    Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?

  • GOV. MIKE PENCE:

    George…

  • GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:

    It’s a yes-or-no question.

  • GOV. MIKE PENCE:

    Hoosiers — come on. Hoosiers don’t believe in discrimination.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Pence now admits that he could have done better. Many loud voices in his state let him know. Gay rights groups held two rallies in the past four days, this one yesterday, seizing modern Republican watchwords like liberty, and also drawing a direct line to civil rights sins of the past.

  • MAN:

    You will never get me, my family, my friends or anybody who I know who social justice- or civic-minded to agree with a bill that brings Jim Crow back to Indiana.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    With a standing-room-only crowd on hand Monday, the Indianapolis City Council voted on its own resolution. Nine Republicans joined Democrats like Zach Adamson, who is gay and married.

  • ZACH ADAMSON:

    The Indianapolis City-County Council is opposed to the recent passage of RFRA.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Some voices in the Indiana business community were also upset and present.

    Bill Oesterle is the CEO of Angie’s List and a big Republican donor.

  • BILL OESTERLE, CEO, Angie’s List:

    We’re completely opposed to this measure. We want to see it repealed or we want to see changes to the civil rights code. And that’s because we have — our chief asset is our people.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Angie’s List has ended its plans for a major expansion. And it joined with eight other high-profile Indiana companies, including Eli Lilly and Roche, to urge Governor Pence to reform the law. And rock band Wilco has canceled a May concert.

  • TONY KATZ, Radio Host:

    Because of RFRA, which they decide is discrimination. They have decided, not a court, no lawsuit. Wilco, this band that you have never heard of, they have decided it is discrimination, so clearly, you know, must be.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    But many conservatives in Indiana, like radio talk show host Tony Katz, are crying foul.

  • TONY KATZ:

    If the intent in America is to ensure you have the right to say no and not get attacked for it, well, then, OK, I’m fine with that. But the bill itself, I’m not in favor of because I’m not interested in legislation to fix a cultural issue, which is this ability to say no.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    A potentially historic moment, at a time when Hoosiers see themselves as charging forward, moving past outdated factories, pouring billions into a modern Indianapolis that has become a sports powerhouse and business magnet, now that story is overshadowed by another.

  • MAN:

    It’s not going to end until Indiana, the United States decides to quit drawing a line down the middle and saying, I’m right, you’re wrong.

  • TONY KATZ:

    But if you have no concept of what the word clarification means, I don’t know what the answer is. I really and truly don’t know. That’s what’s making this, in terms of a news story, even without the people who are just there to try and hurt, it makes it a spectacular soap opera.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And Lisa joins us now from Indianapolis.

    So, Lisa, we heard the governor this morning he wants the clarify the language in that law. What happens now?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    A lot of action in the next couple days, Judy. I just got off the found with the House speaker’s office.

  • Here’s the plan:

    They have cleared the way for possible clarification language to work through the House, a vote likely tomorrow or on Thursday. But here’s the problem right now, Judy. They don’t have the language agreed upon. Meetings are under way. It sounds like they could go late into the night. That language will be important, not just for conservatives and for the state of Indiana, but also for the NCAA Tournament, because if gay rights activists don’t like this language, they don’t think that it protects them enough, I know and have been told that they will plan protests during the NCAA Tournament this week.

    And I can’t stress enough around here how important the NCAA is. Obviously, we know it nationally. But you really feel it in this town, Judy. Indianapolis is the NCAA’s headquarters. And the NCAA only pays a dollar a year to the city to stay here, so it’s a real cornerstone that Indianapolis prizes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, it’s clear that’s adding a real sense of urgency.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Lisa, you have been — you were telling me earlier today you have been talking to a lot of Indiana residents.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do they feel about all this, about all the attention they’re getting over this controversy?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    You know, I think the thing that surprised me the most, Judy, and that I heard a lot from conservatives, liberals alike here, all kinds of people, they say they don’t like to be in the spotlight here. They’re really used to Indiana being off the radar. They like to think of themselves as a state that is kind of a best-kept secret.

    And in general, they don’t like making national headlines. But another thing I heard from folks, Judy, is that they think they are at the center of a national moment. Indianapolis, I didn’t know this before I came here, their motto — or their nickname is the crossroads of America. And I think there is a sense in this town that they’re now at the crossroads of the debate over rights in America.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Lisa Desjardins with some very fine reporting from Indiana, thank you.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Thank you.

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