Santorum on religious freedom laws: 'Tolerance is a 2-way street'

Story highlights

  • Rick Santorum says "religious freedom" debate is about government telling people what to do
  • Santorum, a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, weighs in on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's decision

Washington (CNN)Rick Santorum says he'd hoped Indiana Gov. Mike Pence would veto the "fix" to his state's religious freedom law rather than limiting its scope.

The law unleashed an intense backlash against Indiana, led by tech giants like Apple and Salesforce and sports organizations like the NCAA, amid concerns it would allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers.
Santorum, the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who is likely to mount another presidential campaign in 2016, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that Pence's decision to sign a follow-up bill -- which made clear the law couldn't be used to refuse services based on sexual orientation -- led to a "limited view" of religious freedom.
    "It doesn't really open the debate up on some of the more current issues," Santorum said -- a reference to gay rights issues.
    With the Supreme Court set to rule in June on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized nationwide, social conservatives like Santorum have asserted that Christian bakers, florists and wedding photographers shouldn't be forced to provide their services to same-sex weddings.
    The Indiana uproar drew nearly all of the GOP's 2016 contenders into the debate, with candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz rushing to Pence's defense.
    "Tolerance is a two-way street," Santorum said.
    "If you're a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print 'God hates fags' for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?" Santorum said.
    "Should the government force you to do that?" he said. "And that's what these cases are all about. This is about the government coming in saying, 'No -- we're going to make you do this.' And this is where I think we just need some space to say, 'Let's have some tolerance -- have it be a two-way street.'"
    Gay rights groups, meanwhile, have used the outrage over Indiana's law -- as well as a similar one that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law -- and debate in at least 14 other states over similar measures this year to renew their calls for state laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
    Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign's legal director, said the debate could shift to states like Texas and South Carolina, where similar bills have been introduced.
    She said tech companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly wading into the debate because they're recognizing that "nondiscrimination protections are critical to every area of their employees' lives."
    Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese in New York, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the debate over religious freedom calls for a "delicate balance."
    "We've got to make sure that the rights of conscience and the ability to publicly exercise one's religion is also balanced with another good -- namely, the rights of people not to be discriminated against," he said.
    "It's easier to ignore religious freedom than it is, today, the more popular issues," Dolan said. "In a way, I appreciate the fact that we have political leaders like Gov. Pence that are saying, 'Whoa, wait a minute. Without questioning the rights of the gay community, we also have to make sure that the rights of the religious community are protected.'"
    "I just wish we could do that in a temperate, civil way, instead of screaming at each other," he said.