Thursday, 16 April 2015

When Divided, We are Conquered

Our societies are structured around the concept of “betterment”.   Most of us operate with an innate belief “If we make things better now, they will flourish later.”  It’s why we have things like schools, libraries, gyms, AA, and most importantly, our community laws.

But what happens when each of our own individualized ideas of what “better” is, is drastically different? Is better to you, more beautiful, more sustainable, more respectful, or perhaps more holy?

That’s the question at hand when it comes to such laws as Indiana’s
SB101 – The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Indiana’s SB101 – The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence on March 26th, allows individuals and companies to assert that their exercise of religion has been, or is likely to be, substantially burdened as a defense in legal proceedings.  This opens the door for business owners to choose who they will or will not accept patronage from based on their religious belief, without fear of being held liable for discrimination.

What differentiates this law from a similar federal law, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, as well as several other state laws, are a few key points:

Indiana’s Law Applies to Companies; Others Do Not
In Some Other States, Non-discrimination Laws Trump ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws
The Political Context is Different, and so are the Policy Aims.
The Indiana Law Applies to Private Disputes

You can find a great breakdown of these points from

As expected, the situation brought to the forefront, the many times (but not all the time) contentious cross sections of the LGBT and Religious communities. Of primary concern was that now any business, could deny service to an LGBT person, and claim they had the right to do so while not being held liable for discrimination on the basis that they were just upholding the demands of their faith.

Thrust into the spotlight was a small Indiana pizzeria, who when pressed, claimed they would decline a client if they were asked to cater a same-sex wedding reception citing their Christian beliefs.  I will make note that they did mention, that they would serve all customers regardless of orientation, but that they drew their professional line at catering same-sex wedding receptions….with pizzas.
After wide spread media coverage, the pizzeria closed its doors to bide it’s time while the media frenzy passed.

Now I’m not one to support the demise of anyone or their business, but I must be honest that I had a moment of “Yay! The “good guy” won!”. It restored a bit of my faith in humanity, that can so easily get chipped away when you hear that there are still people in North America, who think the best option is promote segregation.

However, that’s when the reality of North America’s current state of inclusion started to set in. Within weeks upon closing, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to help support the establishment’s owners, during their “time of need”.  Quickly, the campaign raised over $800,000.

With the money, the pizzeria has been reopened, and the owners have indicated their plans to donate portions of the raised funds to various charities of their choosing.  As you can assume, the donated money came from SB101 supporters; those who feel they have the right to not be held liable should they opt to deny service to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Let me just summarize: over $800,000, was crowdfunded in support of legal segregation.

The backlash from Indiana’s SB 101 was immediately felt by the entire state, when such organizations as SalesForce, Angie’s List, a multitude of municipalities, and a growing list of other organizations, opted to cease all interactions with the state, should they continue with SB 101 on the books.  While Gov. Mike Pence, consistently claimed the bill was about bringing communities together, Indiana Republicans announced an agreement that will alter Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Reformation Act to ensure that it does not discriminate against LGBT people. The proposed change grants new protections for LGBT customers, employees and tenants.

When we create laws, our sincerest efforts and focus should always be to empower an entire community; while ensuring civility and sustainability. When we create laws that leave open the door for legal segregation, we are purposefully un-leveling the playing field, and intentionally causing civil discourse, with the goal of leaving fellow community members un- or minimally sustainable. Which brings me back to the concept of betterment.

My betterment is creating a space where all views have the opportunity to be presented, where taking pride in your belief system and living your personal life accordingly is acceptable.  My version of betterment, however, does not include creating tools with a direct aim at dividing us. We should have realized a long time ago that we are all in this together. Anytime we stray from that thinking as a global community, we are only making things better on an emotionally local level.  And that is how and why people often confuse diversity for division.....

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