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Mixed Reaction To Changes In States 'Religious Freedom' Bills

Many politicians and businesses have expressed satisfaction with changes made to the language of "religious freedom" measures in Indiana and Arkansas aimed at preventing them from being used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Others see the compromise language as a watering down or worse — a sellout. And a few said the changes didn't go far enough.

In Indiana, where the Legislature added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes for the first time, there was this from the American Family Council Association of Indiana, which pushed the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

But Indianapolis-based Angie's List, whose strong protest against the original Indiana law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week helped prompt the revision approved on Thursday, says the changes are "insufficient."

"There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana," Angie's CEO Bill Oesterle said in a statement Thursday morning of the proposed changes adopted later in the day.

Indiana University, which went on record as being opposed to the law, said in a statement that it was "grateful for the hard work and good intentions of those who have earnestly labored in recent days to address this problem."

Purdue University, where Pence's predecessor, former Gov. Mitch Daniels, is president, took no official stance on the controversy, saying only that its own policies are inclusive and do not discriminate.

And the NCAA, which had also opposed the Indiana measure, said in a statement: "We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against."

Finally, a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the owners of Memories Pizza, who publicly said they would not cater a same-sex marriage, raised more than $500,000 "to help the family stave off the burdensome cost of having the media parked out front, activists tearing them down, and no customers coming in."

In Arkansas, meanwhile, the state's largest company, Wal-Mart, praised the changes, saying in a statement that it hoped the action "marks a significant step toward achieving a greater understanding of the need to protect the rights of all Arkansans."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who asked state lawmakers to revise the bill before he would sign it, said the new version "does the three things that I outlined: It protects religious freedom. It establishes a balancing act that the courts must determine in these types of cases. And thirdly, I think it does recognize the diversity of our culture and our work force."

However, Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council, said the original bill represented the "Rolls-Royce of religious freedom bills" but the revised version was merely a "Cadillac."

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said the original bill had given the state "a black eye" — and that with the amended version, she said, "We still need some Tylenol."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.