Indiana to clarify 'religious freedom' law, Georgia, NC bills stall

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Indiana's RFRA Law, Explained

(Reuters) -- Indiana Republicans pledged on Monday to clarify a new "religious freedom" law, while similar proposals stalled in Georgia and North Carolina after businesses and activists said such measures could be used to discriminate against gays.

Arkansas lawmakers, however, signaled they would move forward with their own bill, even after Indiana was rebuked by companies and executives including Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook, and Eli Lilly and Co.

Indiana's law, signed by Governor Mike Pence last week, was perceived as going further than those passed in 19 other states, giving businesses a right to refuse services on religious grounds.

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Indiana to clarify 'religious freedom' law, Georgia, NC bills stall
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long speaks as House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma speaks as Senate President Pro Tem David Long (L) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - March 30: City County Council Vice President John Barth introduces a resolution calling for the repeal or revision of the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that criticssay can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators react to the City County Council passing a resolution calling on the state to repeal or revise it's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, left, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma R-Indianapolis, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders in Indiana state say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, left, D-Anderson, and Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, call for the repeal of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The mayor called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Angie's List has threatened to pull out of a planned expantion in the state over the religious freedom law, that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Weson is the author of the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on later in the day. The Republican-sponsored proposal would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and extends the definition of a "person" to include religious institutions, businesses and associations. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has signed into law a religious objections bill that some convention organizers and business leaders have opposed amid concern it could allow discrimination against gay people. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Gay marriage became legal in Indiana last year following an appeals court ruling, and gay rights activists say Republicans pushed through the religious freedom act in response. The law was enacted months before an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling over state bans on same-sex marriage.

The law has drawn intense criticism, including concerns from the president of the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is holding its men's basketball championship Final Four beginning this weekend in the city.

On Monday, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and state Senate President Pro Tem David Long, both Republicans, told reporters the law was not intended to discriminate, and that it sets a legal standard allowing people of all faiths to bring religious freedom claims.

"To the extent that we need to clarify that, by adding something to the law to make that clear that's not the intent, we are more than willing to do it," Long said.

Nine chief executive officers, including the heads of Angie's List and Eli Lilly, wrote letters to Pence, Bosma and Long on Monday asking them to "take immediate action" to ensure the act will not sanction or encourage discrimination.

Thousands rallied against the law in Indianapolis last weekend and the cities of San Francisco and Seattle and the state of Connecticut all banned official travel to Indiana.

The rock band Wilco announced on Twitter on Monday it was canceling its May 7 Indianapolis show because of this "odious measure."

"We've been embarrassed before the nation," Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, a Democrat, told reporters, calling for the law's repeal.

PENCE DEFENDS LAW

Bosma said lawmakers were looking at different options for clarifying the law, such as removing the specter of it being used as a defense to claims that services were denied on a discriminatory basis.

On Sunday, Pence defended the law and said he would not push for a nondiscrimination bill to counteract its possible impact, but he said he was open to the General Assembly adding a section that clarifies the law.

Similar religious freedom bills have stalled in Georgia and North Carolina.

Earlier in March, the Republican-controlled Georgia state Senate approved a bill, but supporters put the measure on hold after a Republican House member added anti-discrimination language.

North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory said on Monday he would not sign a religious freedom bill as written because it would allow government officials to refuse to perform marriages based on a religious objection.

In Arkansas, the Republican-controlled House is expected to approve a bill advanced by state senators last week, and Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he would sign it.

Arkansas-based retail giant Wal-Mart Stores said the bill sends the "wrong message" about the state.

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