For months now, I’ve been warning readers about so-called ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Acts’ aimed at legitimizing and protecting bigotry. On Friday, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence set off a firestorm by signing an RFRA that is plainly written to give private business owners legal protection against private persons who sue for discrimination — essentially nullifying local anti-discrimination ordinances in exactly the top-down, centrally-planned way that conservatives usually denounce as an intrusion on liberty. As a result, Indiana has already lost business and stands to lose much more.
Responding to that firestorm with mendacity yesterday, Pence appeared on George Stephanopoulos’s ABC News show to dodge eight different direct questions about the intent of the bill (see video above).
“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?” Stephanopolous asked. “Yes or no?”
“This is where this debate has gone, with misinformation,” Pence replied. “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.”
“That was one of your supporters who was talking about the bill right there,” Stephanopolous pressed. “It said it would protect a Christian florist who — against any kind of punishment. Is that true or not?”
“George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two way street or not?” Pence opined. “I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. 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.”
“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?” the ABC host tried again.
And again, Pence deflected: “I’m telling you, George, it is a red herring and 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.”
If he is indeed opposed to homophobic bigotry, Mike Pence should be able to say so out loud, in plain English. The fact that he cannot bring himself to do so underlines just how beholden Pence is to the worst elements of his own party, and the dishonesty of this so-called ‘religious freedom’ bill speaks volumes about the current state of Christian majoritarian politics in the Republican Party.