FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law on Thursday. The bill prohibits state laws that substantially burden a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.
Full bill | Read SB 101: Religious Freedom Restoration
The bill is meant to protect religious freedoms for businesses from a number of situations and not just services for gay couples. However, most of the backlash has gone towards that topic specifically. Opponents argue the bill isn’t about religious freedom, but rather discrimination.
Many of the bill’s opponents filled downtown Fort Wayne Saturday afternoon.
“We’re trying to take back our rights as citizens of this state,” rally organizer Pluto Brand said. “It’s an embarrassment to the state, but this says something wonderful about the state because the people in this state are against this law. This law is being shoved down our throats when a higher percentage of the people are against it.”
They lined the sidewalk in front of the Allen County Courthouse, holding signs and chanting phrases like “Recall Pence” and “God is love, not hate, don’t discriminate.” Many also wore pink triangles, which were used in Nazi Germany to identify those in the LGBT community.
“There’s no way you can go into a store right now and the clerk decides that you’re gay and you need to leave. There’s no outward showing, except maybe a symbol like this. We’re reclaiming this symbol as an act of defiance and saying choose me, bring it on, because this law is going to be defeated and we will bring this to a lawsuit. Chose me with symbol, I’m wearing it. You can pick me out of the crowd now,” Brand said.
There was also another rally going on across the street from the courthouse to honor the life of TJ Haney. Haney died in a police-related shooting in April 2013. His family and friends have held several vigils and rallies since the death. The two groups weren’t initially aware that one another would be protesting simultaneously. However, Brand said it just makes sense to raise awareness for societal issues together.
“We’re all here together and supporting each other in unity and showing something that the state needs to see is that we can be together and support each other,” Brand said.
18-year-old Adrian Andrews said the new law makes her want to leave the state.
“It’s crazy because we just made gay marriage legal in October, and it’s like one step forward, 1000 steps back.” Andrews said. “Serving someone that’s different from you is not going to affect your chances at an after-life. They said love thy neighbor, and that’s not loving thy neighbor by refusing them service.”
While the bill is intended to protect religious freedom, some church leaders call it unnecessary.
“This bill does nothing further to protect religious rights. We already have religious freedom in this country. We already have religious rights. This does not protect anything. It instead exposes people to abuse and discrimination,” program coordinator for Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren Megan Sutton said. “Indiana worked so hard for marriage equality and we were really in the spotlight for marriage equality and now, all of the sudden, this bill passes that says no, we don’t like that, and so it’s two really big conflicting statements. Our legislator got it wrong and they were not listening to their constituents. They were not listening to the public, and the public voice says Indiana is a welcome place, and Hoosier hospitality still stands.”
Supporters of the bill, including state representative for District 81 Martin Carbaugh, said that’s not the case.
“Supporters would tell you that it was unclear in Indiana law, case law, about this type of measure. Really, what we’ve done with this bill is set up a judicial review process. All religions should be protected unless as the bill states, there’s a compelling government interest and then religious freedom should be suppressed. That’s what gets overlooked, I think is that this bill talks about protecting religious freedom, but also suppressing it in those cases where it’s necessary,” Carbaugh said.
Carbaugh also cited other states across the country as an example of the bill’s success.
“There’s 30 states that actually have this- if it’s not in statute like we’ve done, then their case law has been very consistent with the same kind of ruling. In all those cases, discrimination has never been allowed through the statute. I’ve heard from people that are very thankful for it. I’ve heard from people who are concerned because they think it might open the door to discrimination which I think that just comes out of all the misrepresentation that’s happening around the country.
State Senator Liz Brown is one of the bill’s co-authors. NewsChannel 15 tried contacting her, but hasn’t heard back yet.