Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks against 'religous freedom' laws

Tim Cook publicly condemned 'religious freedom' laws in Indiana and other states, but the move is likely to surprise few in Silicon Valley.

Robert Galbraith
File - Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook stands in front of a screen displaying the IPhone 6 during a presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

“There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country,” wrote Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday.

Mr. Cook, who came out as gay last October, expressed dissatisfaction with the “wave of legislation” that has, in the name of religious freedom, essentially made it legal to discriminate against people because of sexual orientation.

Since the Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby case last year, which concluded that freedom of religion extends to corporations, there has been a growing number of “religious freedom laws” adopted across the country. But the laws have faced mounting criticism. 

Last Thursday, Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which has faced the most backlash of the 19 similar bills in other states.

Celebrities, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and businesses, big and small, have condemned the laws. Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle even went as far as to halt the expansion of its Indiana headquarters until the “implications” of the laws on “current and future employees” were better understood.

While Wal-Mart and the NCAA are new players to the LGBT equality game, Apple and the rest of Silicon Valley have long been supporters of gay right. The “heart of innovation” has been a vocal advocate for marriage equality since Proposition 8 stole headlines during the 2008 California election.

That year, top executives from Apple, Google, Yahoo, Adobe, eBay, Intuit, Cisco, Facebook, and more came out in public opposition to the California ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to forbid the marriage of same-sex couples. The tech industry helped push the campaign against Prop. 8, buying ad space in The San Jose Mercury News that read, “Silicon Valley Leaders Urge You to Stand for Equality.”

Brendan Eich, the co-founder of Mozilla, learned the hard way what happens when you go against the “open-minded” image of Silicon Valley. Years after Prop. 8 passed, Mr. Eich faced major blow back from the Mozilla community when it was revealed that he had donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8. The pressure was so great that Eich decided to step down after two weeks in his CEO position.

Data scientist Nate Silver broke down the financial donations for and against Proposition 8 in Silicon Valley, finding that Eich was part of a very small 17-percent minority of those within major tech companies who donated in support of the legislation.

Google and Apple have been two of the biggest advocates for gay rights. Both tech giants lent their names to a list of 379 American businesses voicing their support of gay marriage in a “friend-of-the-court” brief to the Supreme Court as the issue heads to the Supreme Court in April.

Major players in Silicon Valley have also become an integrated part of San Francisco’s Gay Pride parade. Netflix, Facebook, Google, and Apple are all familiar faces at the colorful event, each sporting a variety of sparkling floats and cutesy equality tech jargon.

As with many things, Silicon Valley has been ahead of the curve with LGBT rights, even as the industry struggles with its boy’s club image.

But the most important aspect to Silicon Valley fighting for equality rights, as Cook pushed for readers to understand, is that discrimination is simply bad for business.

America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” Cook wrote. “From North Carolina to Nevada, these bills under consideration truly will hurt jobs, growth and the economic vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms.”

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