Salesforce CEO joins late effort to stop ‘religious freedom’ bill

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff late Wednesday joined a last-ditch effort by at least a dozen Indiana tech company executives to persuade Gov. Mike Pence to veto the controversial "religious freedom" bill, even as Pence made clear he planned to sign the measure Thursday.

Benioff, along with six other Indiana tech CEOs, co-signed a letter opposing the measure. When asked about his participation in the effort, Benioff said in an email to IBJ: "We will be forced to dramatically reduce our investment in Indiana based on our employees' and customers' outrage over the Indiana religious freedom bill."

Benioff, who later shared the same message with his followers on Twitter, did not immediately respond to questions, including whether "reduce our investment" could mean job cuts.

The letter was authored by Jon Gilman, CEO of Indianapolis-based Clear Software, and addressed to Pence. It includes the signatures of Scott McCorkle, CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and John McDonald, CEO of CloudOne.

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

The measure, known as Senate Bill 101, cleared the General Assembly on Monday and headed to the governor's office. The measure will become law unless Pence vetoes it. He's expected to sign it in a private ceremony closed to the public and media.

Supporters say the bill protects religious freedom and prevents the government from compelling people to be involved in activities they consider objectionable, such as same-sex weddings. Opponents said the measure could open doors for discrimination.

Several corporations, including Cummins Inc., have for weeks decried the measure as it advanced through the Legislature. But in recent days, tech executives in particular have gone public with their sentiments, many labeling it as damaging to their efforts to attract and retain tech talent in Indiana.

"In technology, to get the best and the brightest, you need forward-thinking people," said Gilman, whose company sells cloud-based enterprise accounting software. "And forward-thinking people tend to disagree with legislation like this."

Gilmer said he was moved to write the letter after seeing a segment on CNBC Wednesday about the bill.

The tech executives join Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and the owners of the GenCon gaming convention in late efforts to persuade Pence to change his mind on the bill.

JJ Thompson, CEO of fast growing cybersecurity firm Rook Security, said his company is against the bill. He said he believes the intent was positive, to protect people from feeling they have to compromise their values.

"But the outcome is the opposite," he said. "People are feeling discriminated against, and it violates the same values they're espousing. We're talking about Christian values that are about loving, caring and helping people first."

Other local tech companies that have gone on record in oppositon to SB 101 include:

– Apparatus
– Bluebridge Digital LLC
– Salesvue
– LeadJen
– BlastMedia

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