Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Says Religious Freedom Law 'Absolutely Not' a Mistake

ABC's George Stephanopoulos challenges Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on his state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
11:36 | 03/29/15

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Transcript for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Says Religious Freedom Law 'Absolutely Not' a Mistake
Governor Mike pence joins us. Good morning. Thank you for joining us. Thank you, George for the opportunity. Was it a mistake to sign this law? Absolutely not. The religious freedom restoration act was signed into federal law by bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. And it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given anytime government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed it, adopted it. After last year's hobby lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature. And I was proud to sign it into law last week. But look, I think -- I understand that there's been a tremendous amount of misinformation. Misunderstanding around this bill. I'm just determined, I appreciate the time on your program, I'm just determined to clarify this. This is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith across this country. That's what it's been for more than 20 years. And that's what it is now as the law in Indiana, George. One of the problems people point out is your civil rights laws don't include sexual orientation as a protected class in Indiana. And some supporters of the bill, who aed with you as you signed the bill, Eric miller wrote, it will protect those that oppose gay marriage. Christian bakers, florists, and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage. So this is a yes or no question. Is advance America right when they say a forest in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without threat of punishment? The purpose of this bill is to empower, and it has been for more than 20 years, George, this is not speculative. The purpose of this legislation, the law in all 50 states in our federal courts, and it's the law by statute or court decisions in some 30 other states, is very simply to empowers when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional first amendment freedom of religion. A lot of people across the country. Looking at obamacare, hobby lobby cases feel their religious freedom is being impinged upon. The freedom at the federal level, all the state who is visit, are about addressing that. This is not about discrimination. This is about empowering people on government overreach. Your supporters say it would. So, yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana? George, this is where this debate has gone, with misinformation. It's just a question, sir, yes or no? Well, there's been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention. All over the internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you're doing that, as well. The issue here, the religious freedom restoration act has been on the books for more than 20 years. It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved. In point of fact in more than two decades, the religious freedom restoration act has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in the country. I'm just bringing up a question from one of your supporters talking about the bill right there. It said it would protect a Christian florist. Against any kind of punishment. Is that true or not? George, look. The issue here is, is tolerance a two-way street or not? I mean. There's a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today, having to do with people on the left. And, but here, Indiana steps forward, to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion. For people of faith and families of faith in our state. And this avalanche of intolerance poured on our state is outrageous. You've been to Indiana a bunch of times. You know it. There are no kinder, more generous, more welcoming, more hospitable people in America than in the 92 counties of Indiana. Yet, because we stepped forward for the purpose of recognizing the religious liberty rights of all the people of Indiana, of every faith, we suffer under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation and it's completely baseless. Governor, I -- I completely agree with you about the good people. I think people are getting tired of it, George, I do. Tolerance is a two-way street. So when you say tolerance is a two-way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service, or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that's legal in the state of Indiana? That's a simple yes or no question. George, the question here is, is if there is a government action or law that a individual believes impinges on their freedom of religion, they have the opportunity to go to court, just as the religious freedom restoration act, that bill Clinton signed, they would have the opportunity to go to the court, go to court and the court would evaluate the circumstances under the standards articulated in this act. That's all it is. And when you see these headlines about Indiana licensed to discriminate in Indiana. And it just -- I'm telling you, George, it is a red herring. I think it's deeply troubling. To millions of Americans, and frankly, people all across the state of Indiana, who feel troubled about government overreach. This is not about disputes between individuals. It's about government overreach. And I'm proud that Indiana stepped forward. And I'm working hard to clarify this. We're reaching out to business leaders. I'm pleased to be on your show speaking across the country on this. We're determined to make it clear that what Indiana has done here is strengthened the foundation and the constitutional religious rights for our people. It sounds like what you're saying is people are able to use their religious freedom for their defense. Let's try to get to the clarification. You're talking about a fix. One thing people are talking about is adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state's civil rights laws. Will you push for that? I will not push for that. It's not on any agenda. It's not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana. It doesn't have anything to do with this law. I mean -- George. Bill Clinton signed the religious freedom restoration act in 1993. I remember that. Then state senator -- I bet you do. Then state senator Barack Obama voted for it in the state senate of Illinois. The very same language. But Illinois does have the protections in their state law. This isn't about -- well -- this isn't about individual rights or preferential rights for. It says that everyone has the right to the highest level of review if they feel that the government has impinged upon their religious liberties. That gets to the second possible fix. I really believe, George, that it is -- it has been breath taking to many in Indiana, me, included, the fact that Indiana joined some 30 other states and all 50 states in our federal courts by cre -- by enacting the religious freedom restoration act. And yet from people who preach tolerance every day, we've been under an avalanche of intolerance. I'm not going to take it lying down. The CEO of Angie's list is putting his expansion plans on hold in your state. Because of this law. Let me goat another possible fix. I think this -- I really believe that is a result of -- I mean, I've been in touch with corporate leaders, both outside the state. I've been in touch with mark Emmert at the ncaa. We've been doing our level best to correct the gross mischaracterization of this law that has been spread all over the country by many in the media. Some of the media coverage has been shameless and reckless and the online attacks against the people of our state, I'm not going to stand for it. That may be. We've tried to be responsible. Let me try to get to this clarification. One suggested fix would be that this chapter does not publish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state, or local lair protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination. Is that the kind of clarification you're talking about? George, look. We're not going to change the law. Okay. But if the general assembly in Indiana sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is, and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I'm open to that. But -- we're not going to change this law. It's been tested in courts for more than two decades on the federal level. In some 30 states. It represents a foundational protection for individuals. I got to tell you, George, there's a lot of people in this country concerned about government overreach into their religious liberty. I'm one of them. I stand with them. And we've defended them in Indiana. We've made sure the courts in Indiana have used the highest standards. The same standards that are in the federal courts in the religious freedom restoration act. This is about protecting the liberty of every Hoosier of every faith. Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians? George. A yes or no question. Come on. Hoosiers don't believe in discrimination. I mean, the way I was raised in a small town in southern Indiana, you're kind, you're caring, you're respectful to everyone. Anybody that's been in Indiana for five minutes knows that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it's a reality. People tell me, I went to your state, people are so nice. This is not about discrimination. This is about protecting the religious liberty of every Hoosier of every faith and we're going to continue to work our hearts out to clarify that to the people of Indiana and the people of this great country. Yes or no, should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians? George, you're following the mantra of the last week online. And you're trying to make this issue about something else. What wi what I'm for is protecting, with the highest standards in our courts, the religious liberties of hoosiers. I signed the bill. We're going to continue to explain it to people that don't understand it. If possible, we'll find a way to amplify what this bill really is in the legislative process. I stand by this law. It was an important step forward when bill Clinton signed it in 1993. It's an important step forward to keeping the promises of our bill of rights and the first amendment and our Indiana constitution. I'm proud that Indiana's adopt the religious freedom act. Governor pence. Thank you for your time. Let's get a reaction from

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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