Apple CEO Tim Cook, the leader of the world's most profitable company, has issued what should be a chilling warning to business leaders.
"There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country," he writes in a guest op-ed for the Washington Post, calling on business leaders and others to stand up to so-called "religious freedom" laws that the Human Rights Campaign is tracking in 23 states. These are the kind of law that was signed in Indiana last week by Governor Mike Pence. The state next most likely to pass it is Arkansas, where the state senate approved the bill on Friday and Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he'll sign it.
Cook warns that the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" that passed in Indiana and laws like it "go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."
The Indiana version, like the one that passed last year in Mississippi and nearly passed in Arizona, never mentions LGBT people directly. And civil rights leaders, not just on LGBT issues, have warned the laws could be used to reopen a door for all kinds of religious-based discrimination.
"America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business," wrote Cook. "At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers’ lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges. I’m writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement. 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."
Cook came out as gay late last year in an op-ed for Bloomberg Businessweek. In this new op-ed, he opens up about his own upbringing as a Baptist but says, "I was never taught, nor do I believe, that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate."
When similar legislation was being considered in Arizona, Apple wasn't quiet then either, though Cook had not yet come out publicly. Apple threatened to scrap plans for expansion of a manufacturing plant in the state, and Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill in the face of tremendous public outcry from numerous parts of the business community.
Cook has often used his platform as head of Apple to speak out against discrimination, lobbying Congress for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which if ever passed would make it illegal to fire employees over their sexual orientation or gender identity.
For his part on this issue, Cook guarantees that Apple won't use the exemption given to businesses by Indiana or any other state. "Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination."
While Pence said on Sunday in an interview with ABC's This Week that the likes of Cook and other detractors merely misunderstand the effects of the law and ought to pipe down, Cook is asking for just the opposite. "Opposing discrimination takes courage," he writes. "With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous."