Will Businesses Help Destroy Indiana's Discriminatory Religious Freedom Law?

Photo via In.gov
Indiana Governor Mike Pence
Sometimes, big business can be on the side of the good guys. That's what's starting to happen in Indiana, as a reaction to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Republican Governor Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday. Angie's List, followed by a number of other companies, have decided to halt their $40 million dollar expansion into the state as a result of the law's discriminatory implications.

The law is intended to protect individuals from having their religious beliefs "substantially burdened" by the government or lawsuits. On the surface this would seem benign enough but in practice it would allow businesses to refuse to serve or hire LGBT persons on the grounds it was against their beliefs.
"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the Freedom Restoration Act on our employees, both current and future," Angie's List Chief Executive Bill Oesterle said in a statement on Saturday, Reuters reported. "Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents."

Soon, others were adding their voices to this protest. Salesforce.com said it would cancel all programs that would require employees to travel to the state, according to Think Progress. Yelp said creating, maintaining or expanding any business in a state with such a law was "unconscionable." The city of San Francisco banned any city employees from travelling to the state on official business (though, um, it's kind of a stretch to imagine that having any impact). And Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter to express disappointment in this law and urging Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto that state's similar law, which just passed on Friday.

Hutchinson has already pledged to sign that bill, a decision Wal-Mart, which is headquartered in he state, has criticized. Last year, threats of boycotts from American Airlines, Google and other such companies successfully pressured Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill.

Though the NCAA is going forward with the Final Four games scheduled in Indianapolis this April, the statement that they'd "closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce" implied that such future events might be taking place in a different state.

Indiana is the 20th state to pass a religious freedom law, but its scope is the broadest, human rights experts say, and the context in which it was passed has been the most overtly driven by opponents of marriage equality.

The best news is that all of this might actually be working. Governor Pence told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he was pushing for legislation to clarify the law. "I support religious liberty, and I support this law," Pence told the paper. "But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there's a way to clarify the intent of the law." But when asked if this clarification included specific protection for gays and lesbians, he said, "That's not on my agenda."

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