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'I like to say I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,' says Pence.Pence's Flickr stream

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, February 11, 2015 ( — Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, has come out in favor of a contentious proposal aimed at protecting the religious freedom rights of corporations and their owners.

The legislation in question would prohibit state laws that “substantially burden” a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.  The bill defines “person” not just as an individual, but also includes religious institutions, corporations, partnerships and associations.  Introduced in the aftermath of dozens of messy court battles over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the bill would also protect business owners and companies who wish to abstain from participating in same-sex “weddings” and other actions that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

In a short speech given to several hundred people at a rally in support of the bill, Gov. Pence said he favors the legislation and thanked its supporters for working toward its passage.

“Thank you all for taking a stand to protect religious freedom in Indiana,” said Pence, before citing sections of the U.S. and Indiana constitutions supporting freedom of religious expression. “I like to say I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” he said.

The rally took place Monday, just as the state Senate began debating the bill.

“You don’t have to look far to find a growing hostility to people of faith,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis.  He said he was inspired to introduce the legislation by both the Hobby Lobby ruling and a recent subpoena of church records – including sermons – by city officials in Houston, Texas who were angry that the church’s pastors had opposed a controversial transgender rights bill.

“This bill acts as a shield and not a sword,” added Schneider. “It is a protector for those who want to practice religious freedom.”

But the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups say they oppose the bill out of fear that its passage may trigger a homosexual boycott of the state, as was threatened in Arizona last year when similar legislation was debated.  Ultimately, Arizona’s bill passed the state legislature, but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who caved under public pressure from gay activists and large corporations who threatened to avoid doing business in the state if she signed it.

If Indiana’s legislature passes the bill and Gov. Pence signs it into law, the state will join 18 others with similar laws in place protecting religious freedom.