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SalesForce.com Takes a Stand Against Bigotry in Indiana

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Data & Technology
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Less than two weeks after Utah passed a landmark LGBT rights bill that had the support of the Mormon Church’s leadership, Indiana has taken a massive step backward on human rights. Yesterday Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, or SEA 101), which opponents claim legalizes discrimination by allowing businesses to decide with whom they choose to provide goods and services.

While the governor insisted in a press statement that “this bill is not about discrimination,” or else he would have vetoed the legislation, the reaction from the business and sports communities has been swift. Ten days before the men’s basketball Final Four weekend starts in Indianapolis, the NCAA expressed concern for its employees as well as Indiana’s viability for hosting future events. One of the most vocal firms has been one of the largest cloud computing companies in the world.

On Thursday SalesForce.com, via its CEO’s tweets, has said it will reduce its investments in Indiana.

The origins of this bill lie in the Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission and Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The former emboldened many advocacy groups to push for legislation such as SEA 101 in the belief that a business could exercise the same First Amendment, or “free speech," rights as people -- even though that was not the intent of the Supreme Court justices' majority opinion. The majority wrote, however, that “if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” So, we see this logic stretched to the cases of bakery owners getting into hot water (or not) for refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The Hobby Lobby case, as of last year, allowed closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law if its owners have a religious objection to a law.

Hence we have Indiana SEA 101, which states: “A governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” In layperson’s terms, if a business or any entity does not want to deal with a person for whatever religious reason, so be it. Even though the LGBT community is not mentioned anywhere in the bill, what opponents fear is that a business owner, such as a hypothetical bakery — or any business for that matter — could deny a service to gays and lesbians for any religious reason. And as Forbes writer Ben Kepes has stated, the same could apply to Jews or any other religious minority.

While Gov. Pence insisted any concern over his signing of this bill is a “misunderstanding,” USA Today noted that the bill was signed in private, and he was joined by supporters of the bill from the Indiana legislature, prominent social conservatives, Orthodox Jews, and Franciscan monks and nuns. Apparently leaders from the Episcopalian and Unitarian churches, LGBT community, or even a token imam, were not invited.

Several tech CEOs, including SalesForce.com CEO Marc Benioff, on Wednesday urged the governor to veto the bill:

“As leaders of technology companies, we not only disagree with this legislation on a personal level, but the RFRA will adversely impact our ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent in the technology sector," six CEOs and a company president wrote in an open letter to Gov. Pence. "Technology professionals are by their nature very progressive, and backward-looking legislation such as the RFRA will make the state of Indiana a less appealing place to live and work.”

Benioff has been especially critical, saying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has outraged his company’s workforce and customers to the point that Salesforce.com will reduce its investment in Indiana. Kevin Brinegar, CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, also criticized the bill:
“In our eyes, the law is entirely unnecessary. The reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention.”

Politicians pass bills such as SEA 101 because they feel that they have to play to their base. Companies such as SalesForce.com, however, have to listen to their stakeholders, so expect the backlash against Indiana to serve as a warning to other states that passing such a law is not only discriminatory, but also a clumsy way to sabotage the local business community.

Image credit:Jasont82

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye