Metro Weekly

White House criticizes Indiana’s discriminatory religious freedom law

Josh Earnest - Screenshot via YouTube

Josh Earnest – Screenshot via YouTube

The White House voiced concerns Friday over a new religious freedom law in Indiana that could allow discrimination against LGBT people.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law yesterday by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has raised legitimate concerns among companies reconsidering doing business in the state and is not a step toward equality for all Americans.

“I have seen that there are a number of private businesses and nonprofit organizations that have said that the signing of this law prompts them to reconsider doing business in the state of Indiana,” Earnest said. “All those business and some of those who are considering having conventions in Indiana have raised concerns about whether all of their employees can count on being treated fairly in Indiana. 

“I think that is a testament to the kind of reaction I think a lot of people all across the country had, which is that the signing of the bill doesn’t seem like it’s a step in the direction of equality and justice and liberty for all Americans. Again, that’s not just the view of the administration, I know that’s the view of the Republican mayor of Indianapolis and a whole host of nonprofit and private sector companies who have legitimate concerns about the impact of this legislation.”

Earnest’s remarks were a notable change in tone for the Obama administration, which has previously refrained from addressing the recent wave of religious freedom bills. When similar legislation was pending in Arkansas last month, Earnest declined to comment, stating he was unaware of the bill and ultimately “governors have to make these kinds of decisions for themselves.”

Although Earnest said he had not spoken to President Barack Obama directly about the Indiana law, nor a “kill the gays” ballot initiative currently being fought by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the White House joins a chorus of voices concerned the new Indiana law will allow discrimination in the name of religion against LGBT people.

Late Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the law as discriminatory. Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of Gen Con LLC, threatened to move the conference elsewhere if the bill was signed into law, according to The Indianapolis Star. Max Levchin, cofounder of PayPal, CEO of Affirm and Chairman of Yelp, tweeted that the law is a signal Indiana welcomes discrimination. Marc Benioff, the CEO and founder of the global cloud computing company Salesforce.com, announced on Twitter he is canceling all programs that require customers or employees to travel to Indiana.

And in an open letter to states considering similar legislation, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote such laws “set a terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted, the businesses currently operating in those states and, most importantly, the consumers who could be victimized under these laws.”

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.