All-Star panel: Reaction to uproar over Indiana's religious freedom law

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 30, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?

GOV. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.: George, you're following the mantra of the last week online and you're trying to make this issue about something else.

TIM LANANE, INDIANA SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Six times yesterday the governor was asked, does this bill allow discrimination, and he didn't answer that.

DAVID LONG, INDIANA SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEM: It is not the intent of the law to discriminate against anyone, and it will not be allowed to discriminate against anyone. And to the extent that we need to clarify through legislative action that this law does not and will not be allowed to discriminate against anyone, we plan to do just that.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: A lot of focus on Indiana, not because of the Final Four, but because of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There was, as you remember, a 1993 federal law and there are 19 other states that have religious freedom restoration acts -- there you see them. But they are a bit different. Indiana is structured, the way it's written, the law is different in these ways. Basically, it provides defense in private suits, regardless if the government is involved. So that means that for-profit businesses, businesses and a person could end up in court and use this as a defense. Also, there is no Indiana state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, that makes it different than the other laws on the books. Just to put that clarification in there before we start our panel.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think this is a huge exaggeration of what's in the law and what's bad about the law. As you say, it's in 19 other states. Bill Clinton signed something similar over 20 years ago. The problem is, as you mentioned, with Indiana there is no law banning description on the basis of sexual orientation. I think the solution is a rather simple one -- pass such a law. Once you have that, then I think what you've done is you have allowed people who have honest religious objections to things perhaps not involving homosexuality but, as we heard, other cases use in the use of peyote in their ceremonies has been an example, Sikhs wearing daggers in places where you really shouldn't have a dagger, those kinds of things, or a Muslim prisoner being allowed to grow a beard. These kinds of things, I think, ought to be giving accommodation, ought to have the presumption on the part of the person who is acting out of a religious motive, but, in order to it fend off the accusation that this is only about gay rights or gay marriage, I would pass in Indiana such a law. And I think it would square the circle.

BAIER: Facebook, Tabitha McDaniel writes in "What about business' rights to their beliefs?" Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, THE HILL: Well, we know in the Supreme Court case, the Hobby Lobby case that got so much attention around here a year ago I guess now, what the Supreme Court said that some businesses, especially business with some religious orientation, would be allowed, for example, to say that they were not going to provide birth control, specifically contraception to its employees.

BAIER: But that dealt with ObamaCare, which is a government function.

WILLIAMS: That's a government function. And so I disagree with Charles about there not being any big between a federal law and this law. Even most of the other states, as you point out, are different in that, one, either they have already the individual protections against discrimination against gays and lesbians, but, secondly, that it's specifically about government function, not fo- profit business and not for an individual.

BAIER: Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes, I think all of this wildly misses the point. As already noted, as you noted, as Charles noted, as Juan has noted, when George Stephanopoulos asks, should it be legal in your state to discriminate against gays and lesbians, the obvious and factual answer as you said in setup piece, is that's already legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Right now diners can refuse to serve ugly people. They can refuse to serve tall people and they refuse to serve gay and lesbian people. I'm against that kind of discrimination, but the religious freedom act does nothing to change that status quo. And is it almost has nothing to do with these issues.

I do think that Pence thought he was placating this crowd a little bit and he stepped in it. He was bizarrely unprepared for the controversy. But, at the same time all of this is a tiny consolation prize to the cultural -- the religious right which has lost on the issue of gay marriage. It has simply lost that. And so all their asking for is the crumb that says if you have evangelical wedding photographer, an industry known to be a hotbed of homophobia, wedding photographers and wedding planners, that if you really don't want to take the business to photograph a wedding, that maybe you can say no and if you are sued over it, you can at least make your case in court. It doesn't mean you are going to win. It just means you are going to make your case.

And the overblown hysteria about this, comparing it to Jim Crow where Jim Crow was a state-sanctioned policy that told businesses that didn't want to discriminate that they had to discriminate, nothing like that going on here.

BAIER: But we have seen the pressure. We saw it in Arizona, they tried to pass a law exactly like this. Jan Brewer eventually vetoed that. Now you see this pressure with companies weighing in, and Pence is under pressure. You say the Republican leaders in the state legislature. What do you think happens?

GOLDBERG: I think they cave and I think they rewrite the law. And personally, I don't care if they rewrite the law. I don't care if they put it into their law books banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
That's fine. But the religious freedom act is an incredibly just and valuable law. It was introduced by Chuck Schumer at the federal level and it has no relation to homosexuality generally speaking.

KRAUTHAMMER: It essentially says that if you're religious and you do something politically incorrect or other people don't like, you at least have a defense in front of a judge. You could lose or you could win, but it's not a license for discrimination.

WILLIAMS: But you just heard Jonah this is about a crumb for the religious right that is upset about gay rights and gay marriage. That's why the gay rights community is upset.

GOLDBERG: The gay rights community is going around after having achieved essentially total victory, going across the battlefield shooting the wounded.

WILLIAMS: But why then use this law to punish gays?

GOLDBERG: This law isn't used to punish gays.

BAIER: I have to punish the panel because we are well over this segment. That's it for the panel.

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