Despite withering criticism from many businesses and outside interests, Gov. Mike Pence is standing his ground after signing a new religious freedom law in Indiana.
The governor went on ABC's "This Week" to defend the new law as nondiscriminatory and reinforcing the rights enshrined in the First Amendment. He argued to George Stephanopoulos that the media coverage and opposition to the legislation was "shameless rhetoric," noting that a similar law was passed at the federal level under President Bill Clinton.
"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago," Pence said. "It lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute."
Pence contended that there had been a lot of confusion surrounding the new law.
"I'm just determined to clarify this," Pence said. "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."
Stephanopoulos pointed out to the governor that Indiana's civil rights laws did not protect sexual orientation. He asked whether or not LGBT people can be discriminated against without recourse.
"The purpose of this legislation, which is the law in all 50 states in our federal courts and it's the law by either statute or court decisions in some 30 other states, is very simply to empower individuals when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion," Pence said. "There's a lot of people across this country who -- you're looking at ObamaCare and the Hobby Lobby decision, looking at other cases, who feel that their religious liberty is being infringed upon."
Pence argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act "has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country."
"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been on the books for more than 20 years," Pence said, citing federal legislation. "It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved."
The Indiana governor told Stephanopoulos that "tolerance is a two way street." He thought the protests surrounding the law were 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," Pence said. "This isn't about disputes between individuals, it's about government overreach."
Stephanopoulos told Pence that various businesses, including the CEO of Angie's List, were withholding expansion of operations in Indiana due to the new law. The journalist proposed fixing the law by adding a clarification that it reinforces current civil rights legislation preventing discrimination.
"We're not going to change the law," Pence said in a stern manner. "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."
Pence contended that the law "has been tested in courts for more than two decades on the federal level."
"I stand by this law," Pence said. "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 our First Amendment and our Indiana constitution, and I'm proud that Indiana has adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."