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RFRA gives greater protections to private businesses that choose to discriminate against homosexual due to the religious beliefs of owners or employees. Some cities in the state, such as Indianapolis, have laws in place preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This state law would allow business owners to seek exemptions from having to comply with those local ordinances.
Pence’s approval of the bill sparked a massive negative reaction from across the country. #BoycottIndiana soon began trending on Twitter—the very reaction many in the state’s business community worried would happen.
“The Indy Chamber remains opposed to this divisive and unnecessary law,” Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Huber told the Indianapolis Star. “We warned of the impending negative economic impact this legislation would have on our ability to attract and retain jobs, talent, and investment, noting the bill will encourage current and potential residents, and visitors to take their business elsewhere.”
“Within moments of this legislation being signed,” he continued, “this warning became a stark reality.”
Well over a dozen states, not to mention the federal government, also have religious freedom laws on the books that are similar to Indiana’s. However, one of the reasons this bill as gotten far more attention is because those other rules deal exclusively with how people—a category which, it’s important to remember, also includes corporations—interact with the government. Indiana’s law goes significantly further by intermediating relationships between private citizens.
A group of 30 law professors, many working for law schools in the state, wrote an open letter charging that the bill “will more likely create confusion, conflict, and a wave of litigation that will threaten the clarity of religious liberty rights in Indiana while undermining the state’s ability to enforce other compelling interests. This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so.”
Indiana now faces coordinated boycotts from a range of sources. And, if history is any lesson, they might just work. When the Arizona state legislature approved a similar bill allowing discrimination against homosexuals, widespread boycotts of the state, along with a threat by the NFL to move the following year’s Super Bowl from Phoenix to Southern California, pushed Republican Governor Jan Brewer to veto it.
In fact, the backlash to the Indiana bill is already starting to have an effect. The Georgia House Judiciary Committee has cancelled a scheduled meeting to discuss its own “religious freedom” bill.
Here’s a list of some of the organizations that are boycotting Indiana, thinking about boycotting Indiana, or even just slamming the state in public.
Connecticut: Governor Dannel Malloy has indicated he will sign an executive order limiting state-funded travel to Indiana as a result of the bill.
Seattle: Mayor Ed Murray, who is gay, has slammed the bill as discriminatory and is banning all city-funded travel to the state.
Washington: Following Mayor Murray’s lead, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday banned state-funded travel to Indiana in protest of the RFRA. “We in Washington stand for equality,” Inslee said in a statement. “I applaud those companies and organizations that have spoken out against the law and said they would not locate or expand operations in Indiana. I want to invite all those organizations, and anyone interested in a state that promotes equality and opportunity, to come visit Washington. We are open for business, and open to all people.”
San Francisco: Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement, “Effective immediately, I am directing City Departments under my authority to bar any publicly funded City employee travel to the State of Indiana that is not absolutely essential to public health and safety. San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by the State of Indiana.”
Disciples of Christ: The Indianapolis-based church has threatened to move its annual convention out of the the state in protest of the legislation. “As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow,” said Disciple of Christ President Sharon Watkins, “one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all.”
Salesforce: The San Francisco-based cloud technology services company has cancelled all employee travel to the state.
AFSCME: Calling the law “un-American,” the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has decided to relocate its 2015 National Women’s Conference out of Indianapolis.
Angie’s List: The crowdsourced local-business-recommendation company announced the cancellation of a $40 million headquarters expansion in Indianapolis after the bill was passed into law.
Yelp: In a blog post, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote, “I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.”
Charles Barkley: The NBA Hall of Famer issued a statement urging the NCAA to move the Final Four out of Indiana.
Wilco: On Monday, the Chicago-based indie band said it would cancel its upcoming show in Indianapolis in protest of the RFRA:
We’re canceling our 5/7 show in Indianapolis. “Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act” feels like thinly disguised legal discrimination.
— WILCO (@Wilco) March 30, 2015
George Takei: The Star Trek actor, LGBT activist, and social media superstar called for a boycott of the state and accused Gov. Pence of pandering to a right-wing, Christian base that fundamentally misunderstands its own religious traditions. “I myself am a Buddhist, not a Christian. But I cannot help but think that if Christ ran a public establishment, it would be open to all,” Takei noted. “He would be the last to refuse service to anyone. It is, simply put, the most un-Christian of notions.”
Not boycotting; just really mad
Apple: Tim Cook, the openly gay chief of the world’s most profitable company, slammed Indiana’s law and others like it, as reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws of the American South. “Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this,” wrote Cook in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.”
NBA and the Indiana Pacers: Shortly after Pence signed the bill into law, the NBA and the Indiana Pacers released a joint statement distancing themselves from the legislation and promising never to discriminate against LGBT fans. Former Pacers superstar Reggie Miller agreed with sentiment of the team’s management in a tweet:
Gen Con: Shortly after the legislation passed, Adrian Swartout, the CEO of Gen Con, a major comic book and gaming convention held annually in Indianapolis, threatened in a letter to move cities as a result of the law. The threat, however, turned out to be an idle one. Swartout followed that letter up a few days letter with another one to attendees saying the convention would stay in Indianapolis at least until its contract with the city runs out in 2020. However, some attendees, like tabletop gaming blog and podcasting network Dog and Thimble, have elected not to participate.
Indiana, Butler, and DePaw Universities: In trio of statements, the state’s three highest-profile universities condemned the law. “It strikes me as ill-conceived legislation at best, and I fear that some of those who advanced it have allowed their personal or political agendas to supersede the best interests of the State of Indiana and its people,” said Butler President James Danko. “No matter your opinion of the law, it is hard to argue with the fact it has done significant damage to our state.”
Broadway Star Audra McDonald: Tweeted at Gov. Pence directly:
Accenture: The major accounting firm tweeted:
We oppose discrimination…We urge Indiana to move quickly to clarify the law and ensure discrimination will not be tolerated.
— Accenture (@Accenture) March 30, 2015
Using the law to covertly legalize marijuana
First Church Of Cannabis: On the same day Pence signed the RFRA, the First Church of Cannabis filed paperwork to register in the state as a tax-exempt religious group. Neither recreational nor medicinal marijuana use is legal in Indiana; but maybe if the church can discriminate against narcs, they’ll be able to put all of those $4.20 monthly member donations to good use.
The nuclear option
Update 7:46am CT, March 31: Washington’s ban on state-funded travel added.
Photo by Ludovic Berton/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.