Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates scrambled Monday to voice support for Indiana’s newly enacted “religious freedom” bill, even as Gov. Mike Pence (R) struggled to clarify whether the law allows business owners to deny service to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs.
Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act quickly became the latest litmus test for the presidential hopefuls, after many of them similarly rushed to state their positions on mandatory vaccinations amid a major measles outbreak earlier this year.
In a Tuesday morning press conference, Pence called for legislation clarifying that the controversial law does not allow businesses to deny service to anyone. By then, almost every candidate said to be considering a presidential run had already thrown their weight behind the law.
Dr. Ben Carson
The tea party darling and retired neurosurgeon, who is known for making disputed statements about the LGBT community, said Monday that religious “intolerance” in America made Indiana’s new law necessary.
“It is absolutely vital that we do all we can to allow Americans to practice their religious ways, while simultaneously ensuring that no one’s beliefs infringe upon those of others,” Carson told Breitbart News.
“We should also serve as champions of freedom of religion throughout the world,” he added, arguing that Americans have an “obligation” to fight back against religious persecution at home and abroad.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Monday that punishing a business owner who religiously objects to gay marriage would violate that person’s religious liberty.
In an appearance on Fox News’ “The Five,” Rubio said that it shouldn’t be legal to deny someone service at a hotel or restaurant because of their sexual orientation. But he argued that a photographer or a caterer should not be punished for refusing to provide their professional services to a same-sex couple if it violates their religious beliefs.
“I think people have a right to live out their religious faith in their own lives. They can’t impose it on you and your life, but they have a right to live it out in their own lives,” he said. “And when you’re asking someone who provides professional services to do something or be punished by law that violates their faith, you’re violating that religious liberty that they have.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) argued Monday that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was not discriminatory and simply protected Indiana residents’ religious beliefs.
“I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level,” Bush said on conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show. “This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”
He went on to cite the case of a florist in Washington state who was fined for refusing to serve a gay couple as an example of when “people acting on their conscience have been castigated by the government.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the only declared candidate in the Republican field for 2016, released a statement late Monday urging supporters to stand behind Pence and the legislation he signed.
“I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition. There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support,” Cruz said in a statement. “Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Monday strongly backed the new law, arguing that the backlash from businesses and celebrities proves that “religious liberty is indeed under attack” in America.
“I oppose discrimination and I reject the notion that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is discriminatory,” Jindal told Breitbart News in an email.
“The fact that there are some who think this law in Indiana, which merely makes it clear that local governments must respect our religious liberty, is controversial clearly shows that religious liberty is indeed under attack,” he added.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) showed his support for Pence and the “religious freedom” law Monday in a tweet:
— Rick Santorum (@RickSantorum) March 30, 2015
He also addressed the law in a speech to students later Monday at George Washington University and released a statement that argued the law did not allow for discrimination.
“Indiana’s law does not discriminate in any way and to claim it does has no basis in fact,” Santorum said in the statement, as quoted by CBS News. “What Indiana did has its basis in over 20 years of law that has been upheld time and time again….I commend Governor Pence’s efforts to draw a line in the sand against those who are working to denigrate this foundational right and protect citizens from having their deeply held religious beliefs undermined.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wouldn’t tell a reporter from WisPolitics whether business owners who object to serving certain customers on religious grounds should have the right to do so.
“In our state, there’s a balance between wanting to make sure there is not discrimination but at the same time, respecting religious freedoms,” Walker said Monday, as quoted by WisPolitics. “We do that different ways than what they’ve done in the state of Indiana, and certainly that’s going to be part of the debate here and across the country.”
A spokeswoman for Walker’s political organization, AshLee Strong, said in a statement that Walker believes in Americans’ right to exercise their religious freedom and act on their conscience “as a matter of principle,” according to CBS News.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
A spokesman for Rick Perry said the former Texas governor supports the Indiana law.
“Governor Perry has always fought to expand religious freedoms, which is why Texas became a beacon for liberty during his leadership,” spokesman Travis Considine told the Washington Post. “He believes it’s up to the states and their leaders to determine what’s in the best interests of their citizens.”
Perry later spoke out in support of the law on Twitter:
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) March 31, 2015
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
An adviser to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment from TPM about the Indiana law.
But when Arizona faced backlash for a “religious freedom” bill in 2014, Paul had argued that the marketplace would weed out businesses who would use such a law to discriminate, according to CNN.
“I think that the right to associate and the right to be free in your business decisions is out there,” the Kentucky Republican said, as quoted by CNN.
He added that he wasn’t “real excited about laws that sort of say you can deny people service,” however.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said Tuesday that Indiana’s law doesn’t allow for discrimination and instead protects against discrimination based on religion.
“We must stand behind those who stand up for religious freedoms,” Huckabee said Tuesday in a statement issued through a spokesperson. “Indiana’s law is the same that was supported and signed by President Bill Clinton and most Democrats back in 1993; Senator Barack Obama also supported it at one time. It’s not a bill that discriminates, but protects from religious discrimination and upholds religious liberty for everyone.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) came to Pence’s defense Wednesday night in his first public comments on the law.
“My guess is that he’ll fix the problem and move on,” Christie said in a statement, as quoted by the Newark Star-Ledger.
The governor added that he didn’t believe Pence intended for the law to allow businesses to discriminate against anyone. “We should not have a situation where people perceive that anybody will be denied service,” he said in the statement.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM.
This post has been updated.
All images via AP.