Businesses are creating a backlash to a new law in Indiana they say may make it legal for companies and individuals to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds.

In "an effort to prevent the government from infringing on any person's religious beliefs," Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on March 26. The Associated Press notes that the law's definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

According to the National Conference on State Legislators, 19 other states and the federal government have similar RFRAs that also prohibit the government from "substantially burdening" individuals' religious beliefs unless there is a "compelling governmental interest." More than a dozen states are considering adding similar laws this year.

"This law is not about discrimination," Pence told The Indianapolis Star's Tim Swaren. "It's about protecting religious liberty and giving people full access to the judicial system." In spite of Pence's comments, Indiana is already feeling the heat from businesses that have expressed concerns about the law. For example, Yats and Designer Desserts, both restaurants in Valparaiso, Indiana, placed orders for window decals reading "We Serve Everyone" to place in their store windows, The Chicago Tribune reports.

A bigger blow to the state's economy could come from big-name companies. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the company has "canceled all programs" that require customers and employees "to travel to Indiana to face discrimination." Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote an open letter to Pence in which he issued a warning to other states thinking of passing similar measures. Angie's List announced it will pull out of a proposed $40 million expansion project that promised 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis, as a direct result of the state's new law.

Apple CEO Tim Cook joined the chorus, calling legislation such as Indiana's new law "dangerous" in a Sunday op-ed for The Washington Post. "These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear," he wrote. "They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."  

NCAA president Mark Emmert said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the law and hopes it will be amended or repealed before it goes into effect July 1, ESPN reports. Indianapolis, home to the NCAA, is playing host to the men's basketball Final Four next week. 

"The law has a lot of uncertainty and obviously lacks clarity," Emmert told ESPN. "But anything that could potentially allow for discrimination and works in a way that is inconsistent with our values for inclusion is something that we're very, very concerned about." 

Published on: Mar 30, 2015