Backlash builds over Indiana's religious freedom law

Last Updated Mar 28, 2015 11:01 PM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana is the latest flashpoint in a national debate about freedom and discrimination.

Surrounded by nuns, Franciscan monks and orthodox Jews, Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into law.

Going into effect in July, it protects the right of a person or business to follow their religious beliefs. And the backlash is building.

Late Saturday, Pence told the Indianapolis Star that he would back legislation that he said would "clarify" the law's intent. He told the newspaper he expected a bill to be introduced next week.

More than 700 protesters turned out at the state Capitol in Indianapolis on Saturday to voice their fears that the new law could give businesses the right to refuse to serve gays and lesbians under religious grounds.

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Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Gov. Mike Pence, during a rally in Indianapolis March 28, 2015.
REUTERS

Rachel Cowgill and Amy Knopf have been together for 15 years.

"I don't want my child living in an environment where she's made to feel like her family is somehow less than other families," Knopf said.

The protest echoed growing opposition online as companies from Apple to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly took to social media to express reservations about the law.

Angie's List said it would delay expanding in Indiana "until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees." Salesforce.com has already canceled planned events in Indiana.

Cowgill works for that company. Both she and her wife received messages from their employers expressing concern about doing business in Indiana.

Indiana's Chamber of Commerce is urging businesses not to pull out of the state, but some business owners, like custom leather maker Casey Samson, support the law.

"We're not here to discriminate; we're here to serve anybody we can," Samson said. "But just as they have the right to live their life their way, I believe we should have the right to live how we want to."

Pence said the law is about protecting business owners.

"This is not about legalizing discrimination," he said. "It's about restricting the government's ability to intrude on the religious liberty of our citizens."

The opposition to this law just keeps growing. Basketball commentator Charles Barkley said big events shouldn't be held in any state with what he calls "anti-gay legislation." The Final Four is set to take place next weekend here in Indiana.