- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday that discussions over a “religious freedom restoration” proposal would slow in his chamber to give lawmakers time to see if the legislation would harm North Carolina’s economy, especially in light of criticism over Indiana’s similar new law.

“The last thing that we need to do is to rush into anything,” Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters as opposition to identical proposals filed last week in the House and Senate has grown from gay-rights and civil rights groups, along with many Democrats. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory reiterated his skepticism about the idea on Tuesday.

Supporters of the North Carolina legislation argue it will protect the rights of business owners or individuals from carrying out laws that require them to act in opposition to their religious beliefs. Opponents said passing the legislation would be tantamount to legalizing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Indiana law signed last week by Gov. Mike Pence has generated a firestorm of opposition and lawmakers are now considering changing it.

Moore said the bill is important to a number of fellow Republicans but urged caution, saying the top priorities of his chamber are job creation and road and education improvements.

“I want to find out how this bill accomplishes those objectives. What does it do to move North Carolina’s brand forward?” Moore asked. He said company CEOs he talked to earlier Tuesday had mixed reactions to the North Carolina legislation.

“This issue is certainly worthy of discussion but it’s going to take some time,” Moore said. No committee meetings on the bills have been scheduled.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that the arguments he’s heard for passing this bill - photographers or caterers in other states declining to work same-sex marriages because of their religious beliefs - are just hypotheticals now in North Carolina.

“They’ve brought scenarios to my attention, but no problem that has been identified within our state,” McCrory said. “I’m hearing legislation based on potential scenarios.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Tuesday that he doesn’t know what will happen to the Senate version of the measure. He pointed out that 20 states already have similar “religious freedom” laws on the books. At least 16 states have filed legislation to create such a law or alter current law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“I think we’ll look at the bills that have been filed and we’ll make a decision as to what we’re going to do,” Berger said.

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