Residents hopeful for changes in law

Daily Reporter staff reports

HANCOCK COUNTY — Local citizens are hopeful Gov. Mike Pence’s plan to clarify the newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act will protect Hoosiers from discrimination and start to repair the damage done to Indiana’s reputation.

Pence announced Tuesday he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week that clarifies that the new law does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Following the announcement, Hancock County residents echoed Pence’s statements that clarifying language is needed, though some wondered if it might be too late to reverse the polarizing effect of the law.

Beth Batka of Greenfield has watched the development of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act closely and encouraged people to do their research before taking a stance.

“We’re throwing everybody into the fire who voted for this,” she said. “I’m trying to step back and just get more information.”

On Tuesday, Batka was cautiously optimistic clarifications to the law would prohibit discrimination as Pence promised; however, she added she is withholding judgment until the wording of any change is presented to the public.

Batka said she hopes the developments will broaden the conversation about gay rights.

“I’m hoping that some positive change will come from this,” she said. “Maybe we will get to the point where we can have actual civil rights laws on this books for the (gay) community.”

When Pence signed the bill into law last week, the move created an immediate uproar. Businesses and organizations across the nation canceled plans to expand in or travel to the Hoosier state in retaliation against the law many feared would allow businesses to withhold services unfairly.

In a news conference Tuesday, Pence repeatedly stated the bill was not a “license to discriminate,” as some Hoosiers have feared.

Sarah Phillips Fitzgerald of Greenfield believes the damage already has been done, saying Pence’s announcement Tuesday morning was a “Band-Aid fix” to a bigger problem.

“I think walking us back is probably going to be difficult,” she said.

Other residents have criticized the pursuit of a state law, citing federal protections already on the books.

“It seems to have created so many problems already,” said Mary Jane Hunt of Greenfield. “I don’t know why we even needed it in the first place.”

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who represents a small portion of Hancock County, agreed with Hunt. He voted against the measure because he didn’t see a need for the law.

Eberhart said he is glad the governor and Republican legislative leaders have clarified their positions, and he’s eager to work with other lawmakers to amend the bill to ensure no Hoosiers are treated unfairly.

“We have a lot at stake with our actions this week, so it’s important we all work together on this,” he said. “I look forward to a solution here real soon. I truly think none of us want discrimination.”

Phillips Fitzgerald questioned whether Pence recognized holes in the legislation or was simply backpedaling to address the firestorm that followed the bill being signed into law.

“I think had the public outcry not been so immediate and so national and so visible that he would have never decided to include these protections now,” she said.

Tommy Sego of Greenfield said he believes the state needs some sort of religious protection but argued reaction to the legislation has gotten out of hand.

“I think there needs to be clarification so people can understand it better and not just put in their own ideas of what they think (the law does),” he said.

The changes the General Assembly makes will determine whether the public outcry will be tempered, he said.

In your words

“I think RFRA absolutely needs clarified. Pence keeps backstepping and not answering questions clearly. There is no way this bill should allow someone to discriminate.”

Michele Rosing, Greenfield

“This is making the entire state look bad. I definitely think it needs clarified.”

Jessica Nordenbrock, Greenfield

“I think had the public outcry not been so immediate and so national and so visible that (Pence) would have never decided to include these protections now.”

Sarah Phillips Fitzgerald, Greenfield 

“I’m hoping that some positive change will come from this. Maybe we will get to the point where we can have actual civil rights laws on this books for the (gay) community.”

Beth Batka, Greenfield