Tidal wave

April 2, 2015; Indianapolis Star

Yesterday, in Indiana, changes to the controversial “religious freedom” law were quickly approved by both legislative chambers and signed into effect by Governor Mike Pence.

Although many laud the changes, there are also some who express caution about parts of the act that remain. The ACLU in their statement note that “with these amendments, the RFRA cannot be used as a defense in some kinds of discrimination cases. That’s a major improvement. But it still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives. While this is one piece of the solution, it is incomplete. Religious freedom is important, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others, discriminate, or cause harm.”

This starts a “time of recovery,” as it was described by the Indianapolis Star, which on Tuesday published a front page covered top-to-bottom with a big bold statement: “Fix this now.” The surging furor caused many individuals and institutions to express caution about doing business in and with the state:

  • The AFSCME public employees union canceled its 900-person convention in Indianapolis next fall. Others planning conventions were questioning whether to go forward. The JW Marriott, the largest hotel in Indy, had 15 to 20 groups convey concerns about holding their scheduled conventions in the city and booking rooms at the hotel, according to General Manager Phil Ray. “They’ve been patient to try to work with us,” Ray said. “We’ll update them and…reassure them they can continue to bring their business to Indy. Obviously they are very nervous” over the RFRA issue.
  • At Eli Lilly, Bart Peterson, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications (and former mayor of Indianapolis), said that RFRA “became a lightning rod around the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, and that simply had to be fixed. It clearly has been very damaging to the state of Indiana. We saw it. We felt it.”
  • Even Moody’s called the reaction to the law a “negative credit development” for Indiana and Indianapolis, saying in its credit outlook report that there was “increased risk to its hospitality-related revenues” due to a possible downturn in tourism and convention business.”

However, the San Francisco-based Salesforce is among the corporations set to come out of this with greater social capital for taking a strong leadership position in speaking out against the law. The Indiana-based CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Scott McCorkle, said the company doesn’t need to work to overcome any damage to its brand by being associated with Indiana.

“I expect there to be a positive impact and good things for Salesforce” coming out of the RFRA debate, said McCorkle.—Ruth McCambridge