By: Emily O’Toole
There have been disturbing legal events in the state of Indiana regarding the equality of all citizens. Governor Mike Pence signed a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”(https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/568#document-f6915f8f) into law. This bill purports to expand the religious freedoms of businesses. The Bill infringes on the rights of a state or local government to substantially burden rights of citizens, which includes corporations, to exercise religious freedom. State and local governments in Indiana can now only substantially burden the religious freedom of corporations if, (1) it is essential to furthering a key government interest, (and 2) it is necessary as the least restrictive way to further that government interest. This is a very high standard for the government to be allowed to infringe upon religious freedoms.
Gay rights advocates are understandably upset by this bill. It creates a way for corporations to defend against claims of discrimination against LBGTQ citizens on the basis of this “Religious Freedom Act.” There is large concern that LGBTQ citizens can now be denied services in Indiana due to this act. Governor Pence denies that there is any discrimination intended by the new bill. This bill, however, may create very damaging legal precedents, regarding gay rights, in the state. A business refusing to serve a gay wedding party may be protected under this law.
Some businesses, and several human rights groups, however, have decided to stand with the LGBTQ community and boycott Indiana. Marc Benioiff, (https://twitter.com/Benioff?original_referer=http%3A%2F%2Ftechcrunch.com%2F2015%2F03%2F27%2Ftech-titans-blast-new-anti-gay-law-in-indiana%2F&tw_i=581108959337136129&tw_p=tweetembed) the CEO of Salesforce led the boycott charge. He announced via twitter that Saleforce would cancel all programs requiring customers or employees to travel to Indiana in order to avoid the possibility that they might face discrimination. Salesforce is a huge product that businesses use to help streamline their employee platforms. It currently employs 3,000 people in Indiana and holds conferences in the state that pull in thousands of individuals. Indiana’s economy will no doubt feel the pain of losing Salesforce. Yelp and Paypal are two other tech companies following suit in boycotting Indiana.
Hopefully the economic strain of losing major sources of income and employment will help to get this bill overturned. I hope more businesses follow the example of Salesforce, Yelp and Paypal, to use their economic power to advocate for human rights in Indiana. I look forward to seeing this bill overturned, and I look forward to the triumph of human rights led by socially responsible corporations using their position to fight for human rights in America.
Emily O’Toole is a second year student at Suffolk University law School that hopes to work in human rights law after graduation.