Amid Criticism, Indiana’s Republicans To Revisit Religious Freedom Law – MARCH 30, 201511:16 AM ET


Republican leaders in Indiana say they will work to ensure the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (left) and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, both Republicans, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference today at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (left) and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, both Republicans, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference today at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Michael Conroy/AP

Republican leaders in Indiana say they will work to ensure the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“This law does not discriminate, and it will not be allowed to do so,” Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long said at a news conference with state House Speaker Brian Bosma.

They said they would “encourage our colleagues to adopt a clarifying measure of some sort to remove this misconception about the bill.” The Associated Press says that the measure “prohibits state laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of ‘person’ includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.”

As Indiana Public Media reports, the two Republicans said the state’s GOP governor, Mike Pence, was unclear about the law when he appeared Sunday on ABC’s This Week. (Pence spoke of an “avalanche of intolerance that has been poured on our state” but declined to say whether the law makes it legal to discriminate.)

As NPR’s Scott Neuman reported over the weekend, Pence in media interviews said he supports an effort to “clarify the intent” of the legislation while acknowledging surprise over the hostility it has sparked.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act stoked controversy almost from the moment it was passed by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature and signed by Pence on Thursday. Pushback came not only from Hoosiers and the hashtag #boycottindiana, but also from some of the country’s biggest corporate figures, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle. (Scott has a roundup of the criticism here.)

Pence and other supporters of the measure note that Indiana is not the only state with such a law on the books. But as Scott noted, “Although the law is similar to a federal one and those in 19 other statessexual orientation is not a protected class in Indiana, leaving the door open for discrimination, critics say.”

At today’s news conference, Long said the law “doesn’t discriminate, and anyone on either side of this issue suggesting otherwise is just plain flat wrong.”

Bosma added: “What it does is it sets a standard of review for a court when issues of religious freedom and other rights collide due to government action.”

Democrats want the measure repealed, but Long and Bosma said that was unlikely.

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http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/03/30/396361058/indiana-republicans-say-they-will-seek-to-clarify-religious-freedom-law?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=us

Dying for a Conservative Cause – By Mark Joseph Stern FEB. 4 2015 3:23 PM


Republicans put liberty ahead of life.

 Sen. Rand Paul and other conservatives choose “freedom” over lives. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.


Sen. Rand Paul and other conservatives choose “freedom” over lives.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

A measles epidemic is creeping across America, bringing a once-vanquished disease roaring back to life and sickening hundreds of people, mostly children. These serious illnesses, like the outbreak itself, were entirely preventable; the disease has re-emerged because of the anti-vaccine movement, and its victims were largely unvaccinated. You might expect politicians to line up in support of vaccinations. Instead, Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul—both presumptive 2016 Republican presidential candidates—swung in the opposite direction, with Christie calling for parents’ “choice” and Paul advocating for vaccine “freedom.”

Many commentators were puzzled by the politicians’ decisions to pander to the anti-vaccine movement, especially given that turning vaccines into a partisan issue may well cause more people to put their children at risk of preventable illnesses. (There are willfully ignorant liberals who spread lies about vaccines, including one disgrace to his famous name, but no Democratic Party leaders endorse anti-vax conspiracy theories.) But no one should be surprised that Republicans are putting politics ahead of public health. Republicans are currently cheering on an anti-Obamacare lawsuit that could strip millions of health insurance. They’re willing to put Americans at risk of death just to score points against a law they hate.

To see why the GOP’s new legal campaign against Obamacare poses such a serious threat to public health, it helps to understand that it is based on what Slate contributor Eric Segall called “an outright falsehood.” The Affordable Care Act was designed to encourage states to create their own health care exchanges, allowing people to sign up on state-run websites to receive subsidies for health insurance. However, Congress understood that not every state would be eager to partake in the subsidies system. Accordingly, the ACA calls for the federal government to create exchanges in states that refuse to make their own, allowing people in anti-Obamacare states to receive federal subsidies to purchase a health insurance plan.

Obama visits an India with growing religious intolerance


Since PM Narendra Modi was elected, churches attacked, Christians and Muslims paid to convert to Hinduism

Burnt bibles lie on a bench inside St. Sebastian’s Church after a fire destroyed the church in New Delhi, Dec. 2, 2014. While the cause of the fire is not known, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said Tuesday that “mischief” was suspected. Tsering Topgyal / AP

Burnt bibles lie on a bench inside St. Sebastian’s Church after a fire destroyed the church in New Delhi, Dec. 2, 2014. While the cause of the fire is not known, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said Tuesday that “mischief” was suspected. 
Tsering Topgyal / AP

In the middle of the night on Jan. 14, a man walked into a church in India’s capital city of New Delhi. He folded his hands together, bowed in respect to a statue of the Virgin Mary and then proceeded to vandalize the church. The Delhi police were quick to point out that he and two other assailants, who were caught on a closed-circuit camera and have since been arrested, seemed to be inebriated and did not act out of religious hatred. But some from India’s Christian community, which makes up roughly 2.3 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population, are not convinced. In the past six weeks, four churches have been similarly attacked in Delhi. In the southern city of Hyderabad, Christmas carolers were beaten up, reportedly by a right-wing Hindu group. These incidents, India’s National Human Rights Commission noted last week, “may violate the fundamental right to freedom of religion and cause immense harm to the social fabric.”

Many fear the situation will get worse. For the past few months, Hindu nationalists have been staging elaborate mass-conversion ceremonies called “ghar vapsi,” or “homecoming,” intended to “reconvert” Christians to Hinduism, offering roughly 3,200 rupees (about $52) if they make the switch. (The going rate for a Muslim to convert to Hinduism is about 8,000.)

As a result, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was elected by a landslide last May on a platform of economic reform, is facing increased scrutiny for his refusal to condemn the rising religious intolerance over the past months, something that worries many Christian leaders. A Hindu nationalist and longtime leader of the state of Gujarat, he was accused of looking the other way during the 2002 riots, which left about 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims. “The attacks and the whole silence of the authorities around it have left the community with a feeling of insecurity,” Dominic Emmanuel, a spokesman for the Delhi archdiocese, told an Indian daily.

Modi and Obama
An Indian kitemaker poses with kites adorned with images of US President Barack Obama (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) in Amritsar, India on Jan. 21, 2015.
Narinder Nanu / AFP / Getty Images

Under increased scrutiny, however, Modi may be under pressure to speak up. Today, he welcomes President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to attend India’s Republic Day festivities on Jan. 26, which celebrate the date India’s constitution was adopted in 1950. Obama will be the first U.S. president to attend the function. The mass conversions and attacks have not gone unnoticed among government officials in Washington, D.C., and some analysts expect Obama to voice his concern privately to Modi.

Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, D.C., says that U.S. officials worry that religious issues will distract from the big-picture goals of Obama’s visit: strengthening economic and defense ties, consummating the civil-nuclear deal and reaching an agreement on climate and energy. But, he says, “This could change if the intensity of such sentiments increase or if Modi, or his inner circle, are perceived to be instigators.”

As the Gujarat chief minister from 2001 to 2014, Modi often delivered inflammatory speeches filled with Hindu-nationalist rhetoric. But as he campaigned for prime minister, he softened his rhetoric, saying that improving India’s economy would be his primary objective. Soon the “achhe din,” or good days, would reach all Indians regardless of caste, Modi promised then. Even some of his opponents in the Indian National Congress Party, which has ruled the country for most of its history, complimented Modi on his emphasis on economic reform.

In India, if the Hindu society is in danger, then the country is also in danger [since] the country is a Hindu country.

Mohan Bhagwat

Chief of the RSS

The problem is that some of Modi’s supporters have a different definition of what those good days mean, and his election has emboldened Hindu nationalists in their efforts to turn India — where religious minorities make up roughly 20 percent of the population — into a Hindu nation. Since the election last May, Hindu-Muslim violence has erupted in several states, including a deadly clash earlier this month during the annual kite-flying festival in Gujarat. In the southern state of Kerala, where Hindu nationalists had previously not gained much traction, dozens of Christians were reconverted to Hinduism after they were given financial incentives. (They are called reconversions by the organizers because they allege that all Indians were originally Hindu and were forcefully converted to Islam or Christianity.) Some Hindu nationalist leaders have even suggested that Hindus should have 10 children in order to remain the religious majority.

Modi, who joined the Hindu nationalist group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, as a young man, retains deep ties to the organization. He has not made any public remarks about any specific incidents. But according to reports in the Indian media, he met with the top leadership of several Hindu-nationalist groups in December. During the meeting, he vowed to resign from the prime minister’s post if these groups did not stop making their controversial remarks.

So far this tactic has not worked. Two weeks after that meeting, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said at a rally in Gujarat, “In India, if the Hindu society is in danger, then the country is also in danger [since] the country is a Hindu country.” And in a move that is likely to embarrass Modi, some Hindu nationalists have vowed to create a memorial for Nathuram Godse, the RSS member who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on Jan. 30, 1948.

Article continues:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/25/obama-visits-an-india-with-growing-religious-intolerance.html