Indiana Governor Mike Pence held a press conference Tuesday over the “religious freedom” legislation that he recently signed into law. During the press conference, he maintained that he was proud to sign his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that he believed the legislation to be “vital to the framework of freedom in our nation.”
He then went on to state several of the talking points I’ve read from other conservative leaders and elected officials who have been working to justify the adoption of such legislation. They’ve all been quick to invoke the actions of President Clinton from 1993 and to throw out the number of all the other states with similar laws. He then basically boiled the controversy down to a matter of perception and then segued into how he planned to address it by stating that he believed it would be “helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.”
This is an important shift in the conversation regarding religious freedom laws in the country, and it speaks to the effect that a massive outcry from large companies and industry leaders who view the legislation as discriminatory can have upon legislative efforts.
Regardless of whether Governor Pence agrees with their assessment of the legislation, he should most certainly be concerned for the economic future of his state. Angie’s List has already halted a $40 million expansion project, which would have created 1,000 jobs in the state. Other major companies from within and outside of the state have also called attention to the legislation by issuing statements citing their concerns over potential discrimination that could stem from the law. The list includes, but is far from limited to Apple, Eli Lilly & Co., Salesforce.com and Yelp.
So, what does this mean for Arkansas?
We know where Walmart stands over the matter. Former House Speaker Davy Carter and State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson, both Republicans, have cited their concerns over the legislation. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola has called for a veto. Acxiom has spoken out against it, and today the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce has joined the conversation by stating that the legislation “can be interpreted to provide religious protection for Arkansans who choose to discriminate against other Arkansans.” The organization also stated that the bill was “bad for business and bad for Arkansas” and will be against it “until the issue is clarified by amendment.”
Whether or not any of the proponents of the legislation believe that the bill promotes discrimination toward the LGBT community is irrelevant now. The perception is that it does, and such perception is bad for business.
At this point, what we can hope for is that both the governor and the legislature will take steps to do as Indiana is now set to do by the end of this week. We need a good faith effort to show that this law was not intended to allow for discrimination against the LGBT community, and the addition of a few simple, yet impactful words, can make all the difference in this situation.