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Indiana GOP To Revisit Controversial Religious Freedom Act


Lawmakers in Indiana are rethinking their state's new religious freedom law. Supporters and critics of the law say it lets businesses refuse service to gays and lesbians - in particular, businesses asked to work on gay marriages. Governor Mike Pence says this law has been widely misinterpreted. But business leaders have denounced the law. Companies put their Indiana plans on hold. The NCAA voiced concern as it prepares for the Final Four in Indianapolis. And the music group Wilco canceled an upcoming concert there. In a moment, we'll hear from the mayor of Indianapolis. We begin with Brandon Smith from Indiana Public Broadcasting.

BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: You can't walk down a hallway at the Indiana Statehouse right now without hearing the word clarity. That's the word of the week when it comes to Indiana's controversial new religious freedom law. The bill allows people to use their religious beliefs as a legal defense against government regulations. While the standard exists in other states and at the federal level, opponents and supporters in Indiana have focused on one aspect - that it could allow businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma says that's simply not the case.

REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN BOSMA: We want to clarify that that was not the intent. It was never the intent. And it's not going to be the effect of the law. And we're willing to add some clarity legislatively.

SMITH: Republican leaders don't have a specific solution yet, but Bosma says it keeps coming back to - that's right - clarity.

BOSMA: The clarifying statement that RFRA cannot be used to deny services, facilities or goods to any member of the public is probably a good place to start.

SMITH: But Democratic legislators say tinkering with the law won't solve the problem. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane says only repealing it will work.

SENATOR TIM LANANE: My mother used to tell me if you bring home a bag of potatoes, and you've got a rotten potato in there, you throw it out. You don't let it contaminate the rest of the bag. And I think that's what we have here. And unfortunately, it's our reputation that's being tainted.

SMITH: And it's not just lawmakers saying that clarifying the bill won't work.

MICHAEL HUBER: We have communicated to the House Republicans that the answer is probably not.

SMITH: That's Michael Huber, CEO of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, who says the bill's technical aspects are no longer the issue. It's now about perception. And Huber says what his 2,200 member businesses have seen in response to the measure is upsetting.

HUBER: And it's something that's created an urgency and a galvanizing effect among business because we know that a lot of what's being said do not - it does not represent who we are. And we've got our work cut out for us to get that message out there.

SMITH: And that work hasn't gained much traction yet. Companies like Apple and Eli Lilly have expressed deep concerns. Angie's List is reconsidering plans to expand its Indianapolis headquarters. And several conventions have made noise about pulling out. Indianapolis' Republican mayor is calling on the General Assembly to repeal the law. But Republican lawmakers say that won't happen, leaving many Hoosiers wondering just when the backlash will end. For NPR News, I'm Brandon Smith in Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brandon Smith