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Religious Freedom controversy: Indiana legislators announce changes to law

Religious Freedom controversy: Indiana legislators announce changes to law (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

(NBC NEWS) - The Republican leaders of the Indiana Legislature on Thursday unveiled a change to the state's controversial religious freedom law spelling out that it does not allow businesses to refuse service to gays or other minority groups.

Brian Bosma, speaker of the state House, said that the language would make clear that "we value you — gay, straight, black, white, religious, nonreligious. We value each and every Hoosier."

The language says that businesses may not use the law to refuse service to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or a range of other classifications, including race and religion.

Bosma and his counterpart in the state Senate said that they had secured the votes to pass the change later in the day.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, and state leaders faced intense criticism after enacting the law last week. Supporters said that it was meant to protect religious liberty, but opponents said that businesses could use it to deny service to gay customers.

Pence 

asked the Legislature on Tuesday

 to "fix" the law by the end of the week. College basketball's Final Four tips off in Indianapolis on Saturday night, and the NCAA was among the organizations speaking out against the law.

Chris Douglas, the openly gay founding president of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that the revision was only a first step toward enshrining antidiscrimination protections for gays in Indiana law.

"We know that this is only the beginning," he said. "The end is that the equality guaranteed to all other Hoosiers through the Indiana civil rights code is guaranteed also to us."

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, another Republican, 

asked lawmakers to revise a similar bill

 to make sure it mirrors a federal religious freedom law passed in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton.

Legal experts have said that both the Indiana law and the Arkansas bill had broader language than the federal law and could have provided a wider opening for businesses to discriminate on religious grounds.