"It's been a tough week here in the Hoosier state."
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence—the target of much public criticism for his signing of Indiana's new "religious freedom" law—opened his press conference Tuesday morning with a meditation on how hurt his state has been by the "mischaracterization" of the new law, and how he hopes Indiana legislators will correct the record with amendments.
"I am calling on the General Assembly to send me a bill that focuses on the issue here—that focuses on the smear that's been leveled against the law and against the people of Indiana," Pence said. "And that is that, somehow through our legislative process, we enacted legislation that created a license to discriminate."
It's been less than one week since the Republican governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which supporters say protects people, businesses, and organizations from being forced to act against their religious beliefs. But local and national opponents of the law claim the language tacitly permits discrimination of LGBT individuals on religious grounds.
"I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else. I abhor discrimination. I want to say this: No one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, what they love, or what they believe," Pence said Tuesday. "I believe it with all my heart."
Pence, saying that he represents the tolerance of Hoosiers, praised Martin Luther King Jr. and talked about how proud he was to walk with Rep. John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. "This issue of discrimination has been an anthem through my life," he said.
Indiana state legislators said this week they'll seek to "clarify" that the law doesn't allow discrimination. Pence said additional legislation now being worked through by state lawmakers will correct the "perception problem" surrounding the law.
"It would be helpful to move legislation this week to clarify that this doesn't give businesses the right to deny services to anyone," Pence said, including gays and lesbians.
The specific language of the changes, Pence said, is still being worked out.
When asked if his state should introduce legislation that would specifically protect people from discrimination due to sexual orientation, Pence said he's never supported that idea, and he feels it's a completely separate issue from the debate over the new law.
Pence made connections between his state's law and religious freedom laws at the federal level and in 30 other jurisdictions across the country. Though Pence treated the laws as equals, there are key differences between Indiana's law and some of the others. For one,, the Indiana law places for-profit businesses on par with individuals and other organizations as having a right to express their religious convictions. For another, the statute can be used as protection against a lawsuit brought by a private citizen, not just one brought by the government.
"I thought it was an appropriate addition to Indiana's statutes," Pence said, describing how the bill moved through the legislative process with little controversy until last week.
Pence blamed the public outcry on misinterpretation of the law and "sloppy reporting" by the national media, especially in the controversy's early days.
Which isn't to say that his state media was particularly friendly: On Tuesday, The Indianapolis Star ran a front-page editorial calling on Pence and the legislature to "Fix This Now."
The governor published an op-ed Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal describing how the intent of the legislation was make sure religious freedom is respected in Indiana and to "apply the highest level of scrutiny to any state or local governmental action that infringes on people's religious liberty."
Echoing comments he made Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, Pence said at the press conference that he doesn't regret signing the bill.
"I was pleased to have signed it, and I stand by the law," Pence said.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.