Indiana's legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an op-ed in the Washington Post calling out the state for enacting a pro-discrimination law. The law, set to go into effect in July, gives business owners the right to refuse service to anyone and then use their own religious beliefs as justification. Opponents of the law, including Mr. Cook, say it's nothing more than state-sanctioned discrimination.
Apple CEO Tim Cook: Discrimination under the guise of religious freedom is still discrimination
The argument in support of the RFRA in Indiana, and the similar Federal law enacted in 1993 under President Bill Clinton, is that religious freedom needs to be protected and that government should be prevented from "substantially burdening" religious beliefs.
The common theme is that business owners shouldn't be forced to engage in practices, or do business with people, that fundamentally go against their own beliefs. In Indiana, the common example is an incident where a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple.
Supporters of RFRA laws in Indiana and 18 other states see the legislation as a protection of their religious rights. Opponents see the laws as noting more than a throwback to a time when open discrimination based on the color of your skin, the god you worship, or who you love was accepted and even institutionalized.
Mr. Cook said in his op-ed,
These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.
So far 19 states have enacted RFRA laws, and that number jumps up to 32 if you include states that offer similar protections through court decisions.
Protecting religious freedom is important, and the line between religious freedom and religion as a tool for discrimination is very fine. Discrimination is an insidious beast finding ways to justify itself that often seem reasonable and comfortable.
"I remember what it was like to grow up in the South in the 1960s and 1970s," Mr. Cook said. "Discrimination isn't something that's easy to oppose. It doesn't always stare you in the face. It moves in the shadows. And sometimes it shrouds itself within the very laws meant to protect us."
The implication is that Indiana and many other states are shrouding discrimination under the guise of protection, and that ultimately we will all be hurt—regardless of which side of the RFRA laws we land.
These laws can have unexpected results, and considering the attention Indiana's bill has received, there's a good chance we'll see some public backlash. Imagine, for example, the reaction if a baker owner who worships the Church of Satan refuses to sell a cake to a Catholic family celebrating Easter.
The reasoning behind discrimination laws, no matter how altruistic, is flawed and ultimately hurts us all. It's good to see Mr. Cook and Apple standing up against such laws, and hopefully both will serve as an example for others. This is about people, and leaving the world a better place for all of the children in our lives.