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National Outrage Pushes Indiana To Tweak Religious Freedom Law

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Exactly one week after signing Indiana's religious freedom bill into law, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a follow-up bill meant to quiet the firestorm that erupted. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith reports.

BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: Last Thursday, Governor Pence signed the religious freedom bill into law, which allows people to use their religious beliefs as a legal defense against government regulation. Then came the fallout, fast and furious. Critics argued it could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. And lawmakers, like Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, watched those concerns grow into national outrage.

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SENATOR TIM LANANE: Businesses are heading for the exits. Hoosiers are fearful their neighbors are going to be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination.

SMITH: The governor went on national TV to defend the law, an appearance even his supporters say made the situation much worse. Conventions started canceling, businesses expressed outrage and governors from other states imposed travel bans. In response, on Monday, Republican lawmakers here pledged to fix it. And yesterday morning, standing in front of more than a dozen local business leaders, Speaker Brian Bosma announced a bill whose message he hopes is clear.

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REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN BOSMA: Indiana is open for business. We welcome everyone. We discriminate against no one.

SMITH: The new language explicitly states that the religious freedom law cannot be used to deny services to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but not all businesses are on board. Scott McCorkle's parent company, Salesforce, halted investment in Indiana after the original bill became law. McCorkle says the fix is only a positive first step.

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SCOTT MCCORKLE: But it is a first step in a larger discussion. We acknowledge the importance of equal rights for all.

SMITH: But conservative groups argue the fix goes too far. Eric Miller heads Advance America, one of the staunchest supporters of the original law. Miller says the backlash was unwarranted, and he argues the outrage is part of an agenda to get government approval for protecting sexual orientation.

ERIC MILLER: That's the endgame.

SMITH: In signing the bill, Governor Mike Pence hopes it moves the state out of what he calls the harsh glare of the national spotlight. For NPR News, I'm Brandon Smith in Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.