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Indiana's 'Religious Freedom' Bill Sparks Firestorm Of Controversy

Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gathered on the lawn of the Indiana State House to rally against that legislation on Saturday.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. ET

When Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law allowing the state's businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds, he knew the move was a controversial one.

Even so, he probably didn't anticipate the level of vitriol that it would spark, much of it directed at him personally.

On Thursday, in a statement issued immediately after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, widely supported by conservative groups but vocally opposed by others, Pence said the bill had been "misunderstood" and that "If I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it."

Almost immediately, however, a #boycottindiana hashtag launched on Twitter. Once social media icon George Takei — the actor of Star Trek fame, who is also gay — weighed in, there was no turning back.

Since then, a stream of critical and sometimes vulgar tweets, Facebook memes, editorial cartoons and even a parody video have been unleashed – many labeling the Hoosier state, its people and/or Gov. Pence as bigoted.

And today, member station WFYI reports that an estimated 3,000 people were gathered outside the Indiana Statehouse to protest the law, some carrying signs reading "no hate in our state."

Indiana author John Green tweeted:

Others had their say, too:

For all the fuss, The Washington Post points out that Indiana is not alone — 19 other states have similar laws.

Even so, before Pence signed the bill — which was overwhelmingly approved by the GOP legislature — GenCon LLC, a major gaming convention that meets annually in Indianapolis threatened to pull out of the state, as did several high-profile companies.

Indianapolis-based Angie's List announced today that it would put a $40 million dollar expansion, that planned to add 1,000 more jobs, on hold over the law.

"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," CEO Bill Oesterle said.

The CEO of Salesforce, a $4 billion software company with operations in Indiana, changed its mind about an expansion in the state.

Cummins, an engine manufacturer and drug-maker Eli Lilly and Co. were among others that voiced objections, along with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who like Pence, is a Republican.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) also said it might cancel its next convention scheduled for Indianapolis in 2017.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has also expressed concern as to whether gay and lesbian customers could be turned away in the name of "religious freedom."

"We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees," Emmert said in a statement Thursday afternoon, shortly after the bill was signed.

Former NBA star Charles Barkley added his voice to the debate.

"Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me," he said. "As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states' cities."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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