Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s (R) national reputation has been shaped in large part by a controversy from earlier this year. After the Republican governor signed a controversial discrimination measure into law, Pence committed himself to a specific principle: people of faith must be able to follow the dictates of their conscience – even when it’s unpopular, even when it’s inconvenient, even if it doesn’t seem just.
Eight months later, Pence’s fealty to that principle is suddenly less certain.
The Indiana governor is one of several governors who opposes resettlement of Syrian refugees, fleeing a brutal civil war and ISIS terrorism, onto American soil. Pence doesn’t have the legal authority to block the refugees from entering Indiana altogether, but the Republican did order the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration not to cooperate with any resettlement plans.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Indiana, however, is not a governmental agency, and it said it would help support a refugee family scheduled to arrive in the state next week. Pence can’t order the church to stop, but as the Indianapolis Star reported, the governor can urge church officials to follow his lead on the issue.
After meeting privately with Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin and his staff, Pence told The Associated Press that he can’t make an exception to his request that no Syrian refugees move to Indiana until he’s satisfied that the vetting process can stop potential terrorists.“There are significant gaps in our ability to know precisely what we need to know about everyone coming into this country,” he said.
For the record, Pence has been rather vague when explaining his concerns about the refugee vetting process. The governor claims to have concerns about “significant gaps,” but Pence’s complaints have lacked specificity, raising questions about whether the Indiana Republican has legitimate policy concerns or whether he has some irrational, politically motivated fear of Syrian refugees.
But it’s the contrast between Pence’s posture in March and Pence’s posture in December that stands out for me. When it’s people of faith who want to turn away LGBT customers, the governor said the rights of religious people must be shielded. But when it’s people of faith who want to come to the aid of struggling families from a war-torn nation, Pence believes religious people should succumb to pressure from the governor’s office.
It’s hard not to wonder what the reaction from the right would be if a liberal Democratic governor pressured Catholic leaders not to follow the dictates of their conscience.
As for the church’s reaction to the governor’s push, it’s unclear, at least for now, whether Pence’s lobbying will work. Archbishop Tobin told the state AP, “My first consideration is not to objectify the family and make them an object of notoriety. They are human beings…. Our desire is to respect human beings.”
Tobin added, however, that he would “give serious consideration” to Pence’s appeal.
A church announcement may come as early as today.