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Indiana governor insists religious freedom law ‘has been smeared’ — but vows to ‘fix’ it this week

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Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence, responding to national outrage over the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said on Tuesday he will “fix” it to make clear businesses cannot use it to deny services to same-sex couples.

Pence, in a news conference, said the law he signed last week had been widely mischaracterized and “smeared” but he called on the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly to send a new law to his desk this week to fix it.

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“I believe it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” he told reporters in the state capital, Indianapolis.

“We will fix this and we will move forward,” Pence told the nationally televised conference.

Pence faces widespread outrage over the bill, which passed with an overwhelming majority in the state’s legislature.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper on Tuesday published a front-page editorial headlined “FIX THIS NOW” in giant type.

But Pence defended the law as protecting people of all faiths from being forced by government to go against their beliefs and said repeatedly it had never been meant to discriminate against anyone.

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Major companies including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Apple Inc, Angie’s List, diesel engine-maker Cummins Inc, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and drug-maker Eli Lilly and Co have called on him to clarify or repeal the law.

But Pence found support from conservatives including Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz and possible presidential contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Twenty other states have passed such laws, known as RFRAs, since the early 1990s but Indiana’s is the first enacted since gay marriage became legal in many states last year, and it has been seen by critics as a backlash against same-sex marriage.

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The 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act sought to give individuals clear recourse to challenge perceived government infringement of their First Amendment right of the free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that it did not apply to states, which is why some states passed their own such laws.

Rock band Wilco canceled a show in Indianapolis and the Democratic governors of Connecticut and Washington state said they would ban official travel to Indiana.

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Auto racing company NASCAR and the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association, an organization for university athletic programs, expressed concern and disappointment about potential discrimination.

Critics say Indiana’s law went too far in potentially allowing businesses to deny services to gay couples, because they could argue that doing so went against their deeply held beliefs.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana under an appeals court ruling last year.

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Religious Freedom Acts in Georgia and North Carolina appeared to stall this week after Indiana came under fire. But the Arkansas House of Representatives is expected to approve this week an RFRA that has already passed the state’s Senate.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he supports the measures and intends to sign it into law if it arrives at his desk.

While Pence said the law in Indiana would be modified to make it clear businesses could not deny services to same-sex couples, Rubio, speaking on Fox News, said religious liberties of Americans who do not want to provide services to a same-sex marriage should be protected under RFRAs.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Emily Stephenson and Susan Heavey in Washington, D.C., and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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