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Apple's Tim Cook speaks out against pro-discrimination laws

His latest statement, in a Washington Post op-ed, warns of a wave of legislation pending across the US that could discriminate against the LGBT community.

Apple's Tim Cook is increasingly speaking out about social issues. James Martin/CNET

The United States is on the precipice of change, says Apple CEO Tim Cook, and it's not for the better.

His concern is a wave of pending legislation in more than two dozen states, mirroring Indiana's controversial new law that some fear will allow discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgendered people through what the state calls "religious freedom." The law, which was signed by Indiana's governor last week, declares that an action by state or local government may not "substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion."

Critics claim Indiana's efforts would allow businesses to discriminate against their patrons, particularly those in the gay community. Indiana's governor has since said he is working with state legislators to "clarify" the intent of the law.

Now Cook is calling attention to states considering whether to enact similar laws. In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Sunday evening, Cook said he counted more than 100 bills being considered by legislators in half the country.

"These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear," he wrote. "They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."

Some in the tech community have already started to take sides. Companies like the business process specialist Salesforce.com and the business reviews site Yelp declared they will pull back investment plans in the state. Angie's List, another business reviews site, said it was canceling $40 million in planned expansion into Indiana, hurting at least 1,000 jobs.

The move is indicative of a growing trend in Silicon Valley companies to join in national conversations over social issues. The technology industry represents a significant amount of economic and political power in the US, but has until now largely avoided overt involvement in political issues other than those that directly affect its business.

Much of that changed in 2012, when thousands of sites across the Internet participated in a blackout of service to protest a controversial law that could change the way the Web was regulated. Among them was Google, Wikipedia and Craigslist, all of whom urged their users to contact the US Congress in an attempt to quash the pending legislation. It worked.

Now Apple and other companies are turning their eyes toward social issues, and they're using their economic power to do so.

Cook's op-ed drew attention particularly to North Carolina and Nevada, where in the past couple of years the iPhone maker has built massive data centers and invested billions of dollars. He also spoke of Texas, where Apple agreed to build a $300 million campus. Some of the chips for its iPhones and iPads are also manufactured there.

Cook didn't directly threaten those efforts, but said he and Apple "will never tolerate discrimination." Representatives for Apple did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Last October, Cook used an essay posted to Bloomberg Businessweek to speak out publicly about his sexual orientation for the first time. "So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay," he wrote. He also gave a speech in Alabama, criticizing his home state for not offering equality to the gay community.

Now he's speaking out against many more states as well.

"This isn't a political issue. It isn't a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings," he wrote Sunday. "Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it's time for all of us to be courageous."