Indiana Already Experiencing Negative Economic Impact of ‘Religious Freedom’ Law


The ink barely dried from Governor Mike Pence’s pen when word came that Indiana is already feeling negative economic impacts of a highly controversial bill that would legalize discrimination in the state.

The bill — known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — was signed into law today by Governor Pence. It passed the Republican-dominated Indiana House last week in a 63-31 vote after previously passing the Indiana Senate.

Under the new law, it will be legal for a business to deny service based on a religious belief. Critics warn that the broadly-worded law will be used to deny service to gays and other minority groups, and may have other unforeseen consequences.

The national reaction against the bill has been swift and harsh — with economic consequences for the state.

Salesforce, a $4 billion software company that is part of the prestigious S&P 500, says that it will cancel all of its events in Indiana.

“We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation,” Salesforce CEO Benioff told tech website re/code.

Salesforce has between 2,000 and 3,000 employees in the state. The company holds an annual event known as “Connections” that draws over 10,000 people and $8 million worth of spending to Indianapolis. Last September, the company announced that Connections would be moving to New York City for 2015, although it was possible that it would return to Indiana in the future.

That does not appear to be the case anymore. All of the company’s other events have also been cancelled as a result of the new law.

“We can’t bring our customers or our employees into a situation where they might be discriminated against,” Benioff says. “We have a large number of employees and customers who would be impacted dramatically by this legislation. … I’m really just advocating on their behalf.”

Salesforce is not the only organization reconsidering its relationship with Indiana. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, more commonly known as the NCAA, says that it is “concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.”

“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” NCAA president Mark Emmert says.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and Championship are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis in the next couple weeks. While that event will move forward as planned, the organization hinted that future events may be affected as a result of the law. NCAA headquarters is also located in Indianapolis. This is the 22nd time since 1940 — and perhaps the last — that Indianapolis hosts the college basketball championship.

Max Levchin, a co-founder of Paypal — the online payment transaction business often associated with eBay — also had critical words for the new law.

“What is happening in Indiana is pretty unbelievable,” Levchin wrote in a Tweet. “However it’s dressed up, it’s a signal that discrimination is welcome in this state.”

GenCon, the largest gaming convention in the United States, threatened this week that it would leave Indiana if the bill becomes law. GenCon is also the single largest convention in Indianapolis. More than 56,000 attendees visited the city last year with an economic impact of more than $50 million.

Leaders of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ have also threatened to move a planned Indianapolis convention that would draw at least 6,000 attendees to the Circle City.

“As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow — one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table,” the church’s leaders said in a letter sent to Governor Pence on Wednesday.

Local reaction has been equally harsh in its condemnation.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg called the bill “divisive” earlier this week and said that it sends “exactly the wrong message about Indiana’s openness.”

“No one has explained why the Statehouse is focusing on divisive social issues when we have such pressing needs for action on infrastructure, jobs, child protection, and education,” Buttigieg says.

Now that the bill has become law, the St. Joseph County Democratic Party is calling on citizens to boycott any businesses that choose to discriminate against their patrons.

“Personal beliefs are one thing, state sanctioned discrimination is another. The fight over who gets to sit at the lunch counter was won years ago. We have fought the fight against bigotry and hatred before and we will do it again now. If you believe in justice and equality for all, I call on you to join us in this moral obligation,” the county’s party chairman, Jason Critchlow, said in a news release.

The calls for boycotts have likely just begun — and they could have an outsized impact on the state’s economy.

A boycott in Arizona, which passed an anti-immigrant law in 2010, was highly effective. It resulted in $141 million worth of lost attendee conference spending, and a loss of $253 million in economic output in the first year alone.

Image Credit: Flavio Galvao, flickr

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  • J F Coop Jr says:

    As a southern Michigan resident, Indiana was always our favorite day trip for quick getaways and shopping. Not any longer. We won’t support Pence’s inhospitable, fascist economy. Indiana’s a very long, impressive saga of hate continues …

  • Kate Whitefield says:

    It hurts me to make this decision, but I won’t be buying anymore glass from Kokomo Opalescent Glass (one of the only suppliers of Dalles De Verre,or Slab Glass in the country.) At least until this draconian law is repealed.

  • Debbie says:

    Shame on you Indiana Legislators for voting to approve this law. The people of Indiana are embarrassed by your actions ! I hope the world will speak with their wallets and show you what a mistake you have made ! I wonder what will happen when a Christian goes into a Muslim owned business and they are refused service based on religious principals.

  • Anne says:

    I wonder if they could move the Indianapolis 500…

  • flexdoc says:

    I applaud the sentiments, but all those companies and the NCAA who are going forward with their plans should be ashamed. Paying lip service to something and actually doing it are two different things.

    • DG101 says:

      Why should the be ashamed? You come up with an alternative plan, THEN act. These things don’t happen overnight.

    • Jean Louis LeCocq says:

      this legislation was passed in a very timely manner. The NCAA tournament has already begun. Likely, arrangements could not be made in another venue particularly with the issue of hotels and is very probable that hotel guests have already paid in full for their rooms.

  • cstclair says:

    As a United Methodist pastor–a tradition proudly part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, present day immigration reform, and Justice for all peoples–I am saddened by the bigotry demonstrated in a state where representatives should be thinking about the impact of these types of actions on their citizens. It’s appalling and sad. Amen to those companies willing to stand up for what’s right. Indiana’s Governor and the short-sighted, Republican legislative branches should be held accountable to the citizens they should be thinking about first: those targeted by hatred veiled in the guise of religious freedom. Those self-righteous business owners sheltering their hate in a cloud of religiosity have missed every point of the Gospel. Their misguided attempts at holiness result only in fruitless fearful religiosity that have nothing to do with freedom, love, compassion, forgiveness, or godliness. They only succeed in being persecuted for their stupidity, not their faithfulness. Pity those whose unconditional love is now questioned for coming from the Hoosier state.

  • angela says:

    Here I thought this was 2015!! You cannot tell me the state of Indiana doesnt have more things in legislature that they should be focused on instead of this bigotry. Now citizens of Indiana it’s time to stand up when it’s election time anyone republican or democratic that voted for this bigotry needs voted out. I applaud the companies who are taking there business elsewhere.

  • Interesting. Not one case of religious based discrimination has come up because of this law, yet there’s already a dozen cases of discrimination based on ideology. Disagree with our beliefs? We’ll cripple your business and economy until you do.

    Intolerance is alive and well.

    • Andrews says:

      Then why pass a law that provides shelter for potential discrimination? Why is it necessary? The law is carefully worded to provide for state supported hatred.

    • DG101 says:

      In what way are they being discriminated against? Because people don’t want to be identified with a place making it easier for bigots? Why would they continue to do business with people who hate them?

      I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t that what the LGBT community and their supporters are doing? Denying business based upon hate?” No. It’s not the same thing. They are denying their financial support to a state that has adopted an unnecessary protection for people who will misuse the benefits provided by this bill. This isn’t about hatred for Christians. This is about protecting one’s own interests. Avoiding humiliation and degradation. They are reaping what they sow.

    • Philip says:

      Dear Michael,
      How else am I going to stand up for justice and inclusion of all? I am standing up by saying NO to those businesses who serve bigotry. I have no problem with the owners of those businesses. But hey, it’s my religious freedom too to avoid giving life to hatred and bigotry. No sir, thank you. If I ever find myself in a business which discriminates I’ll leave and I’ll publicize their discriminatory policies too. Let everyone know and choose.

    • Michael, it is not necessary for me to wait until someone discriminates against my friends and family for me to express my displeasure with this law. Just as there was apparently no need for the state to determine if a law was necessary prior to voting to sanction hate and discrimination. I am exercising my right under the religious freedom law Indiana just passed to take my business to another state, one that stands for my religious values of inclusion and tolerance. You don’t get to discriminate, then cry that others discriminate against you. Hypocrisy at it’s worst.

    • David W says:

      You are free to express your beliefs, and, legally (now) discriminate against your fellow citizens. However, that does not mean you are free the consequences of your actions.

  • My family, including our gay family members, have been going to Garwood Farms for apple picking for decades. Until Indiana repeals this ugly and hate-inspired law, we will be picking apples in another state. We stand with our gay loved ones, and all LGBT people who only wish to live a life without discrimination.

    • Laura says:

      Come pick apples in Ohio! We have great apple farms here! And the Cleveland area in particular is incredibly LGBT friendly!

  • mark says:

    Money bought his signature on that bill. The same as if a gun were pointed at his head.

    • Meagan says:

      You cannot seriously consider being paid off with money to having a gun held to your head!

  • Webb Sussman says:

    The people of Indiana elected their representatives (House and Senate). If the representative voted for this bill, one can only assume that he or she is reflecting the views of the people who elected them. It’s up to the Indiana voters to either bask in the results their last election has brought them, or ask themselves some hard questions about who they voted for and why.

  • Enola says:

    Boo-hoo! People are still discriminated against all over the place in every state by businesses. Everyone is just pissed off that it’s now legal for businesses to do it in Indiana now.

  • Shelly B. says:

    People are not commenting on the fact that persons will be denied services based on supposed religious preference as well as sexual orientation. My son could pass for middle eastern if someone chose to see him that way and could refuse him service saying he is of Islam. People could refuse to provide services because someone “looks Jewish” or “Irish Catholic”. All sorts of discrimination is opened up by this law. People will boycott businesses because the businesses are the ones who have the right to discriminate under this law and the businesses that do not discriminate will be recognized by the public and word of mouth will keep people coming. Those who chose to close their doors on certain people will be outed and will only have clientele who are either indifferent or side with them. Life will go on and those of us who don’t live in Indiana should stop persecuting those who are directly in the path of possible consequences from this law. I personally feel for the citizens of the state who will suffer because of this unfortunate choice their government has made.

    • Greg Ward says:

      Excellent point Shelly. My biggest concern is that now police, fire and life saving emergency services can be denied by any employee citing their religious beliefs – of course they are NOT discriminating and can’t be disciplined because it it only about their religious beliefs

  • Seaview Greg says:

    It appears the law is so broad that if my house catches on fire or I need EMS ambulance services they could be denied by any employee of the county I live. So I end up loosing everything and possible even my life if some even thinks I’m gay – that sucks!

  • ram ram says:

    What happens to exacttarget’s(salesforce’s) existing employees? Will they get fired or offered with relocation?

  • Karry J Dohlen says:

    We just had to travel thru Indiana on personal business. In the past we would have spent a night, dined, bought gas, etc. but no longer. We will fuel before, eat, and spend nights there. Until this is rectified I will not spend a cent there.. It’s not like my several hundred dollars each trip will make a difference. But if every traveller would do the same. We as average citizens can and will make a difference!

  • Dan Douglas says:

    I feel deeply that if the average Indiana voter knew the necessary procedures to overturn this law, they would do so immediately. A person’s right to freedom of faith and expression is important indeed. But not to the point of being unkind and hurtful to other people. I know a great number of people and families from there. Indiana folks are not hateful or bigoted people. Provide them with the tools to toss this law out and they will. Some one explain how it is done. I look at Gov. Pense’s face during questions on the subject and he regrets signing the law. I sense he feels backed into a corner about the bad decision he found himself signing the law. People in the State should step up and be heard loud and clear that they’re not going to put up with this law. When you don’t like laws, then stand up and say so! Do it immediately!!

  • Steph McAlea says:

    As an open transwoman from Britain and a leading cartographer in the gaming world I was glad to choose GenCon as my first trip outside of the UK as ‘me’. Sadly, news of this law has rightly been received with horror and disgust in my country. Britain is a reasonably inclusive society and this type of legislation would cost a government its position.

    It is with great regret that I have chosen NOT to attend GenCon. I simply cannot have any of my money go towards this openly prejudiced state government. It is a shame for GenCon as they are very welcoming. Maybe Pence could learn a few things from GenCon in terms of welcoming visitors to Indiana with open arms.