Advertisement
Send tips to video@realclearpolitics.com

Real Clear Politics Video

The Latest Politics, News & Election Videos

Stephanopoulos vs. Gov. Mike Pence on Religious Freedom Act: "We're Not Going To Change The Law," "Tolerance A Two-Way Street"

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC'S "THIS WEEK" HOST: And Governor Mike Pence joins us now. Good morning, governor. Thank you for joining us.

Was it a mistake to sign...

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-Indiana): Good morning, George, thanks for the opportunity.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So was it a mistake to sign this law?

PENCE: Absolutely not. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. And 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. And 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 and misunderstanding around this bill, and I'm just determined -- and 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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I think one of the problems that people have pointed out is that in Indiana, your civil rights laws don't include sexual orientation as a protected class. And even some of the supporters of the bill who were -- who appeared with you when you signed the bill, Eric Miller of Advanced America wrote that, "It will protect those who oppose gay marriage."

He put up this example. He said, "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 florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?

PENCE: Well, let -- let me explain to you, the purpose of this bill is to empower and has been for more than 20 years, George. This is not speculative. 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 individual when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion.

And, frankly, George, 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 and -- and The Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the federal level and all the states now, including Indiana, who have it, are simply about addressing that.

This is not about discrimination, this is about...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But...

PENCE: -- empowering people...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me try to...

PENCE: (INAUDIBLE).

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- pin you...

PENCE: -- government overreach here.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- down here though, on it, because your supporters say it would.

And so yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?

PENCE: George, this is -- this is where this debate has gone, with -- with misinformation and frankly...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's just a question, sir. Question, sir.

Yes or no?

PENCE: Well -- well, this -- 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. And in point of fact, in more than two decades, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sir, I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sir...

PENCE: Look, the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- I'm just bringing up a...

PENCE: -- the question...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- (INAUDIBLE) from one of your supporters.

PENCE: -- I think the real question here...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was one of our supporters who was talking about the bill right there. It said it would protect a Christian florist who -- against any kind of punishment.

Is that true or not?

PENCE: George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two way street or not?

I mean, you know, there's a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. And a -- 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 that's been poured on our state is just 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.

And yet because we simply stepped forward for the purpose of recognizing the religious liberty rights of all the people of Indiana, of every faith, we at -- we have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation and it's completely baseless.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor -- Governor, I...

PENCE: It's not based in any...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- I completely...

PENCE: -- fact whatsoever.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- I completely agree with you about the good people...

PENCE: And I think people...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- (INAUDIBLE).

PENCE: -- are getting tired of it, George. I really do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Perhaps...

PENCE: Tolerance is a two way street.

STEPHANOPOULOS: 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 it's now legal in the state of Indiana?

That's the simple yes or no question.

PENCE: George, the -- the question here is if the -- if there is a government action or a law that an individual believes impinges on their religious liberty, they have the opportunity to go to court, just as The Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Bill Clinton signed allowed them, go to court and the court would evaluate the circumstance under the standards articulated in this Act.

That's all it is. And when you see these headlines about -- about Indiana, a license to discriminate in Indiana and -- and -- it just -- I'm telling you, George, it is a red herring and I think it's deeply troubling to millions of Americans and -- and, frankly, people all across the state of Indiana who feel troubled about government overreach. This isn't about disputes between individuals, it's about government overreach. And I'm proud that Indiana stepped forward and I'm working -- 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 are determined to make it clear that what Indiana has done here is strengthen the foundation...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sir, I'm trying to...

PENCE: -- the constitutional First Amendment rights of religious liberty of our people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm trying to get that same clarity. And it sounds to me like what you're saying is that someone could use their religious faith as a defense against any kind of a suit brought there.

But let's try to get to that clarification you're talking about.

One fix that people have talked about is simply adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state's civil rights laws.

Will you push for that?

PENCE: I will not push for that. That's a -- that's not on my agenda and that's not been the -- that's not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana. And it doesn't have anything to do with this law. I mean, George, Bill Clinton signed The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I remember that but...

PENCE: Then state senate -- then state senator -- I'll bet you do.

Then state senator, Barack Obama, voted for it when he was in the state senate of Illinois, the very same language.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right.

PENCE: This isn't...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Illinois does have the protections...

PENCE: -- about...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- in their state law.

PENCE: -- well, I -- this isn't about individual rights or preferential rights for anyone. It says that everyone has the right to the highest level of review if they feel that the government has impinged upon their religious liberty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That gets to the second possible fix.

PENCE: But I don't...

STEPHANOPOULOS: (INAUDIBLE).

PENCE: -- I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: -- you know, again, I -- I really believe, George, that it is -- it has been breathtaking to many in Indiana, me included, at the fact that Indiana joined some 30 other states and all 50 states in our federal courts, by -- by creating -- by enacting The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and -- and yet for -- from people who preach tolerance every day, we have been under an avalanche...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir...

PENCE: -- of intolerance...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- it's not just outsiders...

PENCE: -- and I...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- sir, it is, you know...

PENCE: -- I'm not going to take it lying down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- (INAUDIBLE) the CEO of Angie's List in your state has put his expansion plans on hold because of this law.

But let me then get to another possible fix. This comes from The Lambda Legal Defense Fund. And maybe this is the kind of clarification...

PENCE: Well, I think that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- you're...

PENCE: -- I really believe -- I really believe that is a result -- 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, George, to correct the gross mischaracterization of this law that has a -- that has been spread all over the country by many in the media.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let's get back to that...

PENCE: I mean, frankly, some of the media coverage of this has been shameless and reckless and...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I...

PENCE: -- the online attacks against the people of our state, I'm just not going to stand for it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be. We've tried to be responsible, as well.

But let me try to get to this clarification.

One suggested fix to the law would say that, "this chapter of the law does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination."

Is that the kind of clarification you're talking about?

PENCE: George, look, we're not going to change the law, OK?

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 -- we're not going to change this law. It has been tested in courts for more than two decades on the federal level.

In The News

Most Popular Now

Video Archives