Indiana Governor To ‘Clarify’ Religious Freedom Law, Did Marc Benioff Help?

The tech world was vehemently against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), especially Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. The law was signed just two days ago, and the CEO and others were ready to boycott the state. But their tone is evolving, as is Indiana’s government’s position.

SB 101, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was signed on Thursday, and set off a vicious debate both in and out of the state. A number of media outlets claimed the law would allow businesses not to serve LGBT groups because of the business owner’s religious beliefs. Whether the law will be interpreted that way is still up in the air, but tech CEOs like Marc Benioff decided they weren’t waiting around to find out.

First, Benioff joined with others from the tech sector in sending a letter to the governor, which said, among other things, the law “opens the door to discrimination.”

“Technology professionals are by their nature very progressive, and backward-looking legislation such as the RFRA will make the state of Indiana a less appealing place to live and work.”

The day before Governor Mike Pence signed the law, Benioff tweeted this threat.

Then the day of the signing, Marc Benioff announced he was going through with the threat.

Faced with the growing pressure, the governor announced today that he would introduce new legislation to clarify that SB 101 is not a blank check for businesses to deny LGBT patrons service.

Despite the firestorm from Marc Benioff and others, it was never entirely clear if the bill would allow LGBT discrimination.

According to the IndyStar, the legislation is modeled off of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. The law prevented the federal government from “burdening a person’s exercise of religion” without having to provide proof the action is “furthering the compelling governmental interest” — same with Indiana’s version.

The Supreme Court ruled that the law would only apply to the federal government, and as a result, 20 states have passed similar bills (Indiana is now the 20th). As the debate raged on, Governor Pence stressed that the other 19 states never saw RFRA used to justify discrimination.

Nevertheless, Marc Benioff and many others, including GenCon, George Takei, and Tim Cook, might have good reason to suspect the RFRA as being a Trojan Horse for discrimination. According to Buzzfeed, on the federal level, former President George W. Bush used the law to provide “a blanket override of statutory non-discrimination provisions” for any organization considered religious enough.

To reaffirm Benioff’s fears, one Indiana business owner even went on record to say he’d discriminated before, but will now no longer need to lie to get away with it.

The federal RFRA was also at the center of one of the most watched and controversial Supreme Court cases in recent memory: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Hobby Lobby asserted that by forcing the store to provide health care coverage to its employees that included contraceptives, the federal government was violating the RFRA. The court agreed, earning the wrath of a number of progress commentators.

Governor Pence says his clarification bill will be ready by this coming week, according to the IndyStar. Whether it will be enough to satisfy Marc Benioff and others remains to be seen.

[Image Credit: Robert Scoble/Wikimedia Commons]