Apple, Salesforce CEOs Bash Indiana's Controversial New Law

CEOs at Apple and Salesforce are the latest tech execs to take on the "religious freedom" law, which critics say allows discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, discrimination, controversial Indiana law

A new Indiana "religious freedom" law is under attack by some of the titans of the technology industry, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who argue that the law could allow state residents to hide behind their religious beliefs to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In an Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post on March 29, Cook (pictured) wrote that the new Indiana law, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is dangerous and would allow residents to discriminate against their neighbors by allowing people to "cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law."

Benioff, in reaction to Indiana's adoption of the law, announced on March 26 that his company is canceling all required travel to the state by Salesforce employees to avoid potential discrimination while they would be in the state, according to a report by CBS Local in San Francisco. "Today we are cancelling all programs requiring our customers and employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination," Benioff announced in a tweet on Twitter.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in Indiana last week by Gov. Mike Pence, would prohibit state and local laws that "substantially burden" the ability of people—including businesses and associations—to follow their religious beliefs, according to the CBS report.

Critics say that this means that businesses could refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers if the business owner does not agree with the customer's lifestyle choices, the report continues, while supporters of the measure say that such discrimination concerns are overblown because the bill is modeled after a federal religious freedom law Congress passed in 1993 and that similar laws are already in place in 19 states.

Pence told CNN that the law was enacted because "the Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action."

In his Op-Ed piece, Cook wrote that the new Indiana law and similar proposals that are being considered in other states "rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."

Cook, who last October announced publicly that he is gay, wrote that "America's business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business. At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers' lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That's why, on behalf of Apple, I'm standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation—wherever it emerges. I'm writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement. From North Carolina to Nevada, these bills under consideration truly will hurt jobs, growth and the economic vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms."

Cook wrote that he has "great reverence for religious freedom" and that as a child he was baptized in a Baptist church. "… Faith has always been an important part of my life. I was never taught, nor do I believe, that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate."

For Apple, fighting the messages behind the new Indiana law is important, wrote Cook. "Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination."

Meanwhile, the controversy over the Indiana law continues to build. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) was expected on March 30 to sign an executive order that would bar state-funded travel to Indiana due to the state's newly enacted law, according to a report by NBC WVIT TV in Connecticut.

San Francisco and Seattle have already imposed similar bans in response to the law, according to the report.

In addition, EMC and Cloudera have announced that they will not attend the May 7 IndyBigData conference due to the new law in Indiana, according to other reports.

This is not the first time that tech companies have jumped into the world of politics. In February, Brad Smith, Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel, shared the company's thoughts about marriage equality with the business community, including equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marriages, according to an earlier eWEEK report.