The Unintended Lessons of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Just last week the state of Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Act, which asserts that the government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and that individuals who feel like their religious beliefs have been or could be “substantially burdened” can lean on this law to fend off lawsuits. The law certainly was popular enough in the state’s legislature to get passed. But suffice it to say, it has not been as popular in the rest of the country.
LGBT activists are up in arms. Conferences have pulled out of the state. Apple’s Tim Cook blasted the legislation. Seattle’s mayor has banned travel to Indiana for its city employees. Angie’s List halted the expansion of its headquarters in the state. A slew of major celebrities, companies, CEOs, and politicians have publicly voiced their opposition. Things have gotten so heated that Indiana’s governor began backtracking, saying he would support a “clarification” of the law. Ron Swanson could not be reached for comment.
But you know what? The Religious Freedom Act is actually a good thing. A really good thing. For individuals and businesses alike. And for three big reasons.
1. The bill really is about freedom–the freedom to go out of business.
I am not in favor of a government telling me who I can and can’t do business with (or even passing a law allowing me to discriminate), any more than I’m in favor of the government telling me how much to pay my employees or how many days off I’m required to give them. We should all be free to make our own stupid decisions. And if a business owner in Pawnee wants to drive himself out of business because he ignorantly refuses to sell to someone who’s “substantially burdening” his beliefs or an employer chooses to underpay his people or deny them days off, then more power to him. In all likelihood he’ll ultimately be replaced by a better business. Thank you, Charles Darwin!
2. The bill benefits the smart business owners in the state of Indiana.
The great majority of smart Indiana business owners would never discriminate and never fail to sell their products to customers just because of a difference in religious beliefs. These are people who, like Tim Cook and Bill Oesterle of Angie’s List, realize that it’s a big country with lots of beliefs and lots of differences, and if you want to grow your business, you’re going to have learn how to please and accommodate all of your customers, regardless of whether they’re black, white, Jewish, lesbian, or support the Tigers. These are smart business owners who have learned to put their emotions aside and leave their religious beliefs and political opinions in the parking lot. These are salesmen at heart, and they’ll sell to any law-abiding citizen as long as their check clears. And yes, many of these smart business people do live in Eagleton.
3. The bill is a lesson to business owners around the country.
Some horses are mini-horses. Some are ponies. But in the end they’re all important. If you ignore this lesson (or if you’re not getting the Li’l Sebastian reference), you will suffer the consequences, the wrath of Twitter, the jokes of late-night comedians, and the loss of business from all those other customers who value equality and oppose discrimination. If you choose to not sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, you better be ready for the instant, abusive, damning response you’re going to get from the rest of the country once your picture hits Instagram. And it WILL hit Instagram. In 2015, discrimination is just not good business. Customers have choice. They have the internet. They have opinions. They have legs. And they will walk out and spend their money somewhere else.
Do smart Indiana business owners think that the Religious Freedom Act is a good thing? I’m sure most would say “Knope.” I say yes.