BY NICOLE HENSLEY
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Thursday, March 26, 2015, 10:52 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2015, 2:20 PM
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pictured Wednesday, signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law to prohibit the government from impeding on a person’s religious rights.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence went behind closed doors to sign a controversial measure that would effectively legalize discrimination against same-sex couples by those who object on religious grounds.
Senate Bill 101 was passed by the state House and Senate despite pleas from LGBT activists, Indiana businesses, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis and even leaders of the Disciples of Christ church.
The measure bars the government from impinging on a person’s religious convictions without a “compelling” justification.
Opponents fear the legislation is broad enough to justify an array of discriminatory treatment to residents based on sexual orientation.
Pence, a Republican who assumed office in 2013, promised Monday to sign it into law, and he took the action during a private ceremony Thursday, according to a statement released by his office.
“Today I signed the religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religious for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said.
The legislation garnered an array of criticism by those willing to take their business elsewhere instead of facing the state’s possibly discriminatory law.
It’s believed the bill would provide a valid defense to caterers, photographers or bakers to deny goods and services to same-sex couples.
Seattle-based convention group Gen Con, whose organizers threatened to leave Indianapolis, flaunted its $50 million economic impact that would be at stake over the legislation.
“Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents,” Ballard, a Republican, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here."
The measure's approval elicited concern from leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who are considering taking their General Assembly, which gathers about 6,000 attendees, out of Indianapolis when it next meets in 2017.
The state’s capital is set to host the NCAA Final Four next week and though the basketball organizers based in Indianapolis did not openly criticize the legislation, they acknowledged it could prove troublesome.
"We are examining the details of this bill, however, the NCAA national office is committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events," the college sports governing association said in a statement.
The state’s new policy is the first bill of its kind to be signed into law this session; coinciding with similar bills in Wyoming, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Utah that were quickly defeated.
Another wave of religious freedom measures were introduced in Montana and North Carolina legislatures during the past two weeks, just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on marriage equality.
American Civil Liberties Union attorneys have taken note of the legislation’s timing and warned it could have implications for required vaccinations and child welfare cases.
“The bill was introduced as backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana,” director of ACLU’s Indiana office said in a statement. “We are deeply disappointed that the governor and state lawmakers have been tone-deaf to the cries of legions of Hoosiers.”
Supporters of the bill, including Pence, have repeatedly said the act was intended to protect religious rights, not to codify prejudice.
The state law is patterned after the federal measure enacted by former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, but it is most directly inspired by last year’s religious freedom bill in Arizona that fail with Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto.
The federal measure counteracted a Supreme Court decision that upheld the firing and denial of benefits to two Washington state employees whose religious rituals violated state law.
“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” Pence wrote. “For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”
With News Wire Services.