A new "religious freedom" law in Indiana touched off a firestorm of criticism across the country Friday, after opponents warned that it could lead to legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the state's business establishments.
The measure, which Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed into law Thursday, allows any individual or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. The legislation has already prompted threats of boycott from public officials and celebrities. "Star Trek" actor and LGBT activist George Takei expressed his outrage on Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottIndiana. Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, also took to Twitter to ask Pence whether it would "be legal for someone to discriminate against me." San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (D) prohibited the use of taxpayer money to fund any city employees' trips to Indiana. And Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has canceled the company’s events in the state.
In some Indiana cities, stickers reading "This Business Serves Everyone" have been spotted in shop windows.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which will host the Final Four games of its men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis, said on Thursday that it was "especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees."
Other prominent names also weighed in by Friday. Apple CEO Tim Cook, who came out as gay last year, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the law. And likely 2016 presidential candidate and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also took to Twitter to denounce the measure. "Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT," the former secretary of state wrote.
Pence, a potential 2016 presidential contender, has defended the law as a fair protection for those who "feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.” But on Saturday night, the Indy Star's Tim Swarens reported that Pence said he would support the introduction of legislation to "clarify" that the law does not promote discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals. Pence didn't give any specifics about what would be in the new legislation, but said he expects it to be introduced in the coming week.
"I support religious liberty, and I support this law," Pence told the Indy Star. "But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law."
Supporters of the law, which takes effect in July, maintain that it is being mischaracterized as something that specifically targets LGBT people, rather than something that defends religious freedom in general. They further note that similar measures were passed by 19 other states, and that discrimination against LGBT people hasn't automatically followed everywhere. The Associated Press reports that in Mississippi, for example, there haven't been "any high-profile instances of the law being used by businesses to deny goods or services to gays."
"It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard -- it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest," Pence said of the bill in a radio interview Thursday.
On Friday, the Arkansas state Senate passed a similar bill that drew criticism from one of the nation's largest retailers, Walmart. "We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state," said a spokesman for the company.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Jason Collins as the first openly gay NFL player. He played for the NBA.
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