Indiana this past Thursday, became the 20th state in the U.S. to sign into law the controversial Bill 101, known as the Religious Freedom Bill, which has sparked mass protests not only throughout the state, but the country as well. Originally introduced in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was intended to grant people the right to practice the religion of their choice, and make it illegal for government to hinder a person’s ability to do so. However, as the passage of the bill coincides with a heightened awareness of LGBT discrimination, many are protesting that this Religious Freedom Bill is in fact, discriminatory, since it allows businesses and religious institutions to turn away gays and lesbians.
The signing of the bill took place in a private ceremony at Governor Pence’s Statehouse office on Thursday, shortly before 10AM, which was attended by conservative lawmakers and lobbyists, as well as Franciscan monks, nuns, and Orthodox Jews. The event, however, was closed to reporters from the press, and the general public. As of Saturday, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets in Indiana and nationwide, and several businesses are also issuing boycotts against Indiana businesses and institutions.
On Saturday, Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle in opposition to the bill, which has sparked mass protests, announced that he is putting his company’s most recent project in Indiana on hold. Angie’s List was expected to break ground on the Ford Building Project, an expansion of its campus within days, however, he is now holding off until he receives further clarity on how this law would affect both current and future employees.
Among some of business owners who have jumped on the bandwagon, are Mark Benioff, CEO of Cloud Computing, whose company is considering divesting from businesses in Indiana. SalesForce, as well as Yelp have also chosen to cancel programs that require employees to travel to the state. Apple CEO, Tim Cooke has also expressed his opposition on Twitter, but has not stated as to whether he will join the boycotts.
Also weighing in, are some Sports franchises and non-profits, among them, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is scheduled to hold the Men’s Final Four championship later on this month in Indiana. President Mark Emmet of the NCAA told CNN that he was concerned how this law would affect its employees and student athletes. Outsports.com writer Cyd Ziegler went further, by stating that the National Football League (NFL) could move its annual Draft Combine to another state, or not allow future Superbowls to be played there. A similar type of threat was issued before, when Arizona tried to pass a similar law, which was vetoed.
Pence, meanwhile has persisted in his defense of this law, citing that its purpose is to protect religious freedoms and is not discriminatory. The timing for its passing, however, comes at too auspicious a time. Many supporters of this new law are social conservatives and lobbyists, who have had a history of actively campaigning against attempts to legalize same-sex marriages. Among them were Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, and Eric Miller of Advance America, all who are lobbyists that were present at the bill’s signing. Since the Indiana Religious Freedom Bill has such a strong Conservative base, it is expected that it will continue to spark mass protests from both businesses and organizations, further leading to boycotts and pressure to repeal it. Whether it is not anti-gay, as Governor Pence claims, only time will tell.