Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence is signaling he'll be taking the side of protecting religious rights over those for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents – a tactic that's drawing both praise and scorn.
"I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work," Pence said in his Tuesday State of the State speech, IndyStar.com reports.
The governor, facing re-election, asserted Indiana is already "an open and welcoming state that respects everyone" and said he believes "that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe."
"And no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply held religious beliefs," he added later, the news site reported.
"The issues confronting our state are complex," Pence said. "But I believe if we will hew to our roots, stand firm on the freedoms bequeathed to us by our founders, if we confront the challenges before us with common sense and craft Indiana solutions to improve the lives of Hoosiers, we will move forward together."
Pence's tough speech comes after a year in which he took national and local heat
for Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act; the blow-back and a subsequent "fix" brought the issue to the forefront in the state, IndyStar.com reports.
Paul Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, said Pence's declaration was "trying to have it both ways."
"He clearly sides with the evangelical side of the issue, but I think he left the door open a little," Helmke said. "I think it does put the business community on notice that he's leaning more the other way, but there's still possibly a chance they can get something through."
IndyStar.com notes conservative groups have said giving protected-class status based on sexual orientation or gender identity would elevate LGBT rights above religious rights, and GOP leaders in the state Senate have already promised debate over adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents.
Republican Statehouse leaders praised the governor for giving them a clear signal.
"I thought he was more clear on the religious freedom element than I've heard him say before," House Speaker Brian Bosma tells the news outlet. "He set some very clear parameters in that regard."
Pence's critics denounced the stance.
LGBT rights advocacy group Freedom Indiana called it "a complete letdown," IndyStar.com reports.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.