Why the powerful response to Indiana's controversial law matters
Last week, Indiana’s Governor, Mike Pence (R), signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a bill that would allow individuals and corporations alike to discriminate against others legally, on the basis that their religion deems it acceptable to do so. The bill was signed in a private ceremony, closed to both the press and the public (according to The Huffington Post, members of the press were even asked to leave the governor’s waiting room at the time). The whole event was suspiciously quiet, and Pence released a statement last Thursday announcing his decision.
“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”
But the RFRA has caused quite the uproar — and rightfully so, because enacting the bill threatens the liberties of many others, particularly in the LGBTQ community. While it is not the first piece of legislation of its kind in place in the United States, it has garnered an exceptional amount of attention, and is bringing light to a kind of legal discrimination that we need to change. Which is why so many people, from CEOs to politicians, are taking a stand against it.
As early as last Friday, San Francisco’s Mayor, Edwin Lee (D), banned publicly-funded travel to Indiana — making San Francisco the first city to boycott the state as a result of the bill. Soon after, Seattle’s Mayor, Ed Murray (D), followed suit.
“We stand united as San Franciscans to condemn Indiana’s new discriminatory law,” Lee said in a statement, according to Politico, “San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by the State of Indiana.”
Today, Connecticut became the first state to boycott Indiana over the bill — which is huge news. In a series of tweets earlier this morning, Governor Dan Malloy (D) announced plans to sign an executive order barring any state-funded travel to Indiana.
“When new laws turn back the clock on progress, we can’t sit idly by,” he tweeted. “We are sending a message that discrimination won’t be tolerated.”
San Francisco, Seattle, and Connecticut do not stand alone in their opinions. Along with country-wide protests, many corporations and individuals have spoken out against the bill, as well — including the mayor of Indianapolis himself, who believes the bill sends the “wrong signal” about Indiana.
“Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents,” Mayor Greg Ballard (R) said in a statement, according to IndyStar. “We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here.”
Yelp’s CEO announced the company would no longer expand business operations in Indiana, Salesforce’s CEO said they would reduce investment in the state, and representatives for both the NCAA and NBA have publicly expressed concerns over the bill. As of today, PayPal’s co-founder also joined the chorus condemning the measure. Even Hilary Clinton has chimed in on the matter, tweeting, “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.”
But perhaps most powerfully, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post earlier this week that brought light to how dangerous so-called religious freedom laws are to the United States.
“A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law,” Cook said. “In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law.”
“These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear,” he continued. “They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”
In response to the backlash, Indiana legislators say they intend to amend the bill to prevent discrimination, but were not specific in their plans.
“It is not the intent of the law to discriminate against anyone, and it will not be allowed to discriminate against anyone,” David C. Long, President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, said Monday at a news conference, according to the New York Times. “We hope to have a fix very soon.”
We hope so, too. We should all have the right to practice religion if we so choose, but it’s when that right puts limitations on others, that we need to draw the line. Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is disappointing, to say the least — but the reaction it has received thus far gives us hope that perhaps we have reached a turning point; that as a country, we will no longer keep quiet when it comes to the potential for discrimination.