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Salesforce's stand against legalised bigotry deserves credit - updated

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 25, 2015
Bigotry is bigotry even when it's dressed up in a cloak of so-called religious freedom. Full marks to Salesforce and other digital leaders for taking a stand.

In the face of commonsense and basic decency, Indiana Governor Mike Pence today signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law and legalised discrimination in the state.

According to advocates of the Act, it’s necessary in order to protect businesses from being forced to provide services to people and groups that they find objectionable due to their religious beliefs, such as gay men and women, people of other faiths and so on.

Now, apart from my own utter disgust that this step back from equality and civilised society can even be contemplated in 2015, the other interesting thing about this that caught my eye was that Indiana is home to ExactTarget, now owned by Salesforce.

I remember being in San Francisco on US election night when Proposition 8, banning the right to gay marriage, passed and being pleased when Salesforce took a public stand against that on that occasion. So I had wondered what would be made of what's being pushed through in Indiana.

I’m pleased to say that Benioff did not disappoint, putting his name alongside six other Indiana tech CEOs, to voice his open disapproval and to warn of the consequences for Indiana’s tech economy.

Benioff’s commendably unequivocal stance is simple enough even for Governor Pence to understand:

We will be forced to dramatically reduce our investment in Indiana based on our employees' and customers' outrage over the Indiana religious freedom bill.

And he told his 150,000 followers on Twitter of his position:

Tweet by Mark Benioff about the Religious Freedom Bill ©
(© Twitter)

The letter sent to Pence - who's contemplating a 2016 Presidential run - states:

We firmly believe in the separation of church and state as provisioned in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The RFRA clearly blurs that line and opens the door to blatant discrimination.

As leaders of technology companies, we not only disagree with this legislation on a personal level, but the RFRA will adversely impact our ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent in the technology sector.

Technology professionals are by their nature very progressive, and backward-looking legislation such as the RFRA will make the state of Indiana a less appealing place to live and work.

The other signatories to the letter are Jon Gilman, founder and CEO of Clear Software; John McDonald, CEO of CloudOne; Bill Johnson, founder and CEO of Salesvue; Jenny Vance, president of LeadJen; Max Yoder, founder and CEO of; and Scott McCorkle, CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget).

For his part, McCorkle warns:

Without an open business environment that welcomes all residents and visitors, Salesforce will be unable to continue building on its tradition of marketing innovation in Indianapolis.

And as soon as Pence had signed the legislation through, Salesforce reacted:

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 15.17.02


Of course, supporters of the act see no discrimination in view. Ryan McCann, director of operations and public policy for the Indiana Family Institute (which stands up for "traditional families" apparently), seemingly finds it "odd" that there is opposition from such firms as Salesforce as the measure is apparently meant to protect businesses from the government.

Protecting business from the government? Oh, I see. And there was me thinking it was something to do with God and the Bible and religious beliefs and stuff. No, it's about protecting business people from the people in government. Silly me.

He goes on to add that it's also all about family-owned small businesses

who don't necessarily want to speak out and be targeted.

Well said!

To which I say, at least have the courage of your own prejudices and don’t try to hide behind empty platitudes that it’s all about protecting the rights of the ‘mom and pop’ businesses.

Over at the Daily Beast, Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, paints a more accurate picture in a splendid take-down entitled Call It What It Is: Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination:

If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.

The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs.

Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, everyday, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews).  Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists.

Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.

Robinson goes on to flag up the blatant hypocrisy that in reality there’s precious little consistency when it comes to supporters of such an Act and their condemnation of ‘sin’:

Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed).

If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place.

This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

My take

How is that the only way that religious freedom can work is if it’s based on the principle of being allowed to deny other people their basic freedoms?

And where does it end?

My religion won't let me serve you because you're gay?

My religion won't let me serve you because you're a woman?

My religion won't let me serve you because you're black?

The reality is your religion won't let you serve me because you're a bigot. End of story.

Genuine congratulations to Benioff and his fellow CEOs on this one.

There’s always a commercial risk attached to taking a stand like this. For every person who sees the societal tragedy of legitimising bigotry, there’s another one who’s drinking the Fox News-flavored kool-aid, served up in a Sarah Palin-style super-dooper, super-sized, you-betcha paper cup  -  and that person might have an IT budget.

Here in the UK, this sort of discrimination in the name of religious freedom has been tested on numerous occasions and fortunately in the main it’s been found wanting.

Sadly Pence did not see sense. Perhaps Indiana will let the rest of us know when it wants to rejoin the 21st century.


Disclosure: at time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica. 

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