Santorum on Indiana law: Tolerance is "two-way street"

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said that he had hoped Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wouldn't have asked for changes to a controversial religious freedom law the state legislature passed, arguing that now the federal government and the state have "a pretty limited view" of religious liberty.

"I certainly can't say that it's a bad bill. It's a good bill," Santorum said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "But...it doesn't really open the debate up on some of the more current issues."

"I think we need to look at, as religious liberty is now being pushed harder, to provide more religious protections and that bill doesn't do that," he added.

Indiana's original religious freedom bill, signed earlier this month, came under intense national scrutiny after critics said that it gave people and businesses permission to deny services to gays and lesbians. Many major businesses including Apple were critical as well, leading Pence to call for the legislature to update the measure. Thursday afternoon, he signed an updated version of the law that states it cannot be used to discriminate against anyone, including gay and lesbian customers.

"No business should discriminate against you because of who you are. But it should have the ability to say we're not going to participate in certain activities that we disagree with from a religious point of view," Santorum said.

But Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the Indiana law was not about protecting people's religious views.

"It explicitly allowed individuals to use their religious beliefs to underline other types of laws not only against gay, lesbian and transgender people, but against other religious minorities and in some instances African-Americans and Asian Americans as well," she said in a separate interview on "Face the Nation."

Several tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, as well as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google are expected to publicly call for laws that prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians on Monday.

"They are joining many other important voices in the American business community, from Apple to Walmart to Angie's list, who are really looking at their employees' whole lives," Warbelow said. "These companies already offer non-discrimination protections, but they want to make sure that outside of the workforce their employees are not going to be turned away when they go to a restaurant, or grocery shopping, or when they go to purchase a home."

Santorum called tolerance a "two-way street." As an example, he asked whether a gay man should be forced to print signs reading "God hates fags" for the Westboro Baptist Church.

"Should the government force you to do that? And that's what these cases are all about," he said. "This is where I think we just need some space to say, 'let's have some tolerance be a two-way street.'"

He also said that as attitudes toward gay marriage shift across the country, there needs to be a conversation about "respecting people on both sides of the issues."

"I think that's where you have to differentiate between discrimination against the person, because of who they are, and unwillingness to participate in actions because they're inconsistent with your religious beliefs," Santorum said.

Warbelow said that there are over 100 bills that have been introduced in state legislatures "attempting to target the LGBT community." She said the Human Rights Campaign is going to be focusing their attention on Texas and South Carolina in particular, because they are considering religious freedom bills similar to what was originally passed in Indiana.

On the presidential front, Santorum - who won the 2012 Iowa caucus and is eyeing another presidential bid - said he has not yet made a decision about 2016.

"I'm going through the process that I think 17 or 18 other folks are going through right now, which is trying to determine whether your message is a good message and out there delivering a message on making sure we have a message that unifies the country," he said.

He said he has tried to focus his message on helping those who have been left behind in the economy.

"We have to give them an opportunity to be able to reach that American dream again and then I think Republicans, frankly, have been very weak on that," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.