Every outlet of media has been ablaze talking about Indiana’s controversial new “Religious Freedom” law. Last week, Governor Mike Pence proudly stated, “Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith.” In short, the law would allow private businesses and individuals to refuse service or refuse to do business with individuals if they for some reason violated the vendor’s religious beliefs.
Critics of the law slammed the state and its governor for codifying discrimination. The most obvious example of the new law is that businesses can now legally refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples in the name of religious freedom. The ink from his signature wasn’t even dry before the protest began against Gov. Pence and the new law.
First came the athletes. The NCAA Final Four basketball game is to be held in Indianapolis, the organization’s headquarters, and the association quickly condemned the law. The NCAA stated they will do all they can to make sure visitors attending the final game would not be negatively impacted by the measure. Former and current professional athletes are calling for the removal of the NCAA and other sports events from states who have these kinds of laws on the books. Professional sports organizations throughout Indiana, including the NBA and NASCAR, have assured fans that they will continue to operate on “established principles of inclusion and respect.”
Then came the celebrities of a non-sports culture. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres, normally light and comical, tweeted a very serious reflection, “For anyone who is refused service…you deserve better. Acceptance and progress take time. But they always arrive.” Actor Ashton Kutcher asked the state via social media, “Indiana are you going to allow Christian establishments to ban Jews from coming in?”
Then came the businesses and corporations. Frontman for Apple, Tim Cook, has slammed the law, stating the company is “deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law” and asking the Arkansas government to veto a similar measure in their state. Nine corporate leaders of some of the state’s largest employers sent a letter to Indiana leaders stating they are “deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state.” Yelp, PayPal, and Starbucks also opposed the new law in public statements.
Then came the politicians. Governors from other states and mayors of large cities across the country have taken surprisingly strong stances against their colleague. Connecticut Governor, Dannel Malloy, signed an executive order banning state government-funded travel to Indiana. Malloy asserted that his state was “sending a message that discrimination won’t be tolerated.” Mayors of Seattle and San Francisco also boycotted Indiana.
So what does this mean for employment discrimination laws in Indiana and elsewhere in the country? As employment law stands in the state, discrimination is prohibited for many of the same reasons they are in California—except for one glaring difference. California protects sexual orientation, gender identity, and perceived orientation and identity of employees.
The state’s largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, urged the government to “FIX THIS NOW” on the front page of the paper. The Star called for amendments to the new law but also for the addition of new anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. The call to action could include potential amendments to current employment law in the state.
For now, we have to wait to see how Governor Pence will react—will he repeal or try to amend what many see as an already broken law? Stay tuned.