On March 26, 2015, Indiana’s governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate, Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law provides that the government can’t substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. While the governor has insisted that the bill’s purpose is not discriminatory, many civil rights groups and organizations have condemned the law, stating that the law “could be used by business to deny service to people based on their sexual orientation and justify that discrimination based on their religious belief.” Indiana becomes the first state this year to pass such a law; however, other states, such as Arkansas, are considering similar laws in their legislatures. In addition, Indiana becomes the 20th state to pass a version of a Religious Freedom statute. However, opponents argue that Indiana’s law is the broadest of the laws already passed by increasing protections on  businesses as well as individuals.

Since Governor Pence signed the law, many entertainment and tech companies have voiced their displeasure with the law’s passage. One of the loudest voices came from the NCAA, whose men’s basketball Final Four round is scheduled to take place beginning on April 4, 2015. In a statement, the Association’s president, Mark Emmert stated that the Association was “especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees . . .  [and would] closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as [its] workforce.”   As of today’s date, the NCAA has scheduled both men and women basketball postseason games in Indianapolis dating as far ahead as 2021. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has also publicly criticized the law.

Others have threatened to remove their events from the state. Before the law was signed, a Christian group named the Disciples of Christ, centered in Indianapolis for more than a century, threatened to move its general conference in 2017 that was expected bring thousands of people into the state. Gen Com, an annual gaming commission that supplies the state with its largest convention, has also begun to consider moving its convention from Indianapolis. In addition, Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, tweeted that the company “[was] cancelling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.” In a letter sent from business leaders of tech companies such as Clear Software and CloudOne as while as Salesforce, they discussed the potential negative effects of the law. The letter stated that such “backward-looking legislation . . . will make the state of Indiana a less appealing place to live and work.”

While these appeals have fallen on deaf ears in Indiana’s case, these threats could force other states thinking about similar legislation to reconsider. Indiana attracts more than 25 million visitors each year that “provide $4.4 billion in total economic impact annually and generate 75,000 full-time equivalent jobs in Central Indiana, where Indianapolis, the state capital, is located.” Any loss to these numbers could hurt the state’s economy and create problems for the elected officials who supported this bill. While Governor Pence has stated the bill is an attempt to allay concerns that the government is intruding on religious liberty, this law, going farther than other states’ laws, could negatively affect Indiana’s image and economy.

–Mallik Yamaha

2 Responses to NCAA and Tech Companies Among Those Starting to Reconsider Business in Indiana After Governor Signs State’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

  1. Erin Webb says:

    Salesforce just recently released a video on youtube thanking Indiana for the widespread support against the law titled “Thank You Indiana.” Governor Pence signed an amendment that “fixes” the law. So, while it seems that Salesforce is appeased by the recent changes to the law, I think you are right to point out that this has likely resulted in a tarnished image for Indiana.

  2. Allison Laubach says:

    It’s not only private organizations that have threatened to leave Indiana. Several cities, including Denver, imposed a travel ban on the state. The ban prohibits city employees from using tax-payer money for “non-essential” travel to the Indiana. While the move is mostly symbolic, it represents the widespread anger this legislation has caused.