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Coverage of the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law last week by Indiana Governor Mike Pence details the extent to which the business community is opposing the initiative, saying that it creates the potential for discrimination against the LGBT community.

The new law says that “government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.” Opponents of the law take the position that it potentially institutionalizes the rights of people, businesses and institutions to discriminate against gay people and claim they have the religious right to do so.

Pence has said that "this bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it." However, he now is saying that he will consider legislation that clarifies the language in the bill in a way that mollifies the opposition, though he continues to say that he is "proud" of the law and stands by it.

The BBC has a story saying that a number of technology executives have written to Pence expressing their opposition to the legislation. "Among the signatories." the story says, "was Marc Benioff, the boss of US tech firm Salesforce, who subsequently announced that his company was canceling 'all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination'."

The BBC also reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out in opposition to the law, saying on Twitter that "we are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law," and that "Apple is open for everyone".

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also has opposed the law, calling it "entirely unnecessary" and saying that "reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention."

USA Today reports that Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle "said his firm will pull out of a pending deal with the state and city to expand its headquarters in Indianapolis because of his disagreement with the state's passage of the 'religious freedom' law. Oesterle said he opposed the passage of the bill, intends to keep speaking out against it, and feels he can't accept state subsidies for his company's expansion given his disagreement over the act."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Indianapolis-based drug maker Eli Lilly & Co., which has 11,000 employees in Indiana, said the law 'is bad for Indiana and bad for business' and would complicate the company’s task in attracting top talent. 'Many of those individuals won’t want to come to a state with laws that discriminate,' the company said."

In addition, the NCAA has expressed concerns about the law, saying that it will compel to re-look at its short-term and long-term plans for events in the state. The men's college basketball Final Four championships are scheduled to be played in Indianapolis next week.

National Public Radio reports that "although the law is similar to a federal one and those in 19 other states, sexual orientation is not a protected class in Indiana, leaving the door open for discrimination, critics say." Pence says that any clarification of the law that makes sexual orientation a protected class "is not on my agenda."
KC's View:
There was a funny bit on "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, during the Weekend Update segment, in which it was suggested that the businesses supporting the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act would be distinguished by a sign that would be on all of them ' "going out of business."

It almost does not matter that this law has been passed in other places and even supported, in various forms, by both Democrats and Republicans. The world has changed, sensitivities have changed, and we live in a culture where 37 states have legal same-sex marriage ... and, as it happens, Indiana is one of them.

While Pence and other supporters of the legislation argue that the liberal media is twisting the issue, it seems to me that what must be really troubling to them is the fact that big business has rebelled against it ... this is a social issue on which many, perhaps most, businesses seem to realize that they have to be out in front, lest they be defined as discriminatory.

They may argue that this is a perception issue. But perceptions matter.

Let's not pretend that there is not a political aspect to this argument. There certainly is. Indiana just made the Religious Freedom Restoration Act a question in every presidential debate and press conference in the run up to the 2016 national elections.

I've stated my opinion on similar bills here before - that history is replete with examples of people and institutions that use religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate. I don't think there is any room for that sort of thinking, and I believe that this opinion is firmly in the mainstream.

Businesses need to think about this issue, and be prepared to respond to questions from customers, employees and business partners. It won't just be the media asking.