I recently read an article that identified pluralism as the great challenge of our time.
Most Americans no longer live among people who look, pray and think as they do; we are no longer surrounded by people whose minor differences offer no challenge to the assumptions that ground our worldviews.
Will our tribal differences allow us to create genuine, supportive communities?
Psychiatrists can probably explain why some people are comfortable in a diverse environment and others are threatened, but that diversity is an inescapable aspect of modern life. The challenge facing lawmakers is how to craft rules that respect the right of threatened folks to hold their beliefs while protecting the targets of their disapproval or hatred from harm.
I recently posted about a letter to the editor from four Indiana legislators opposing a hate crimes bill.The tone of that letter made it abundantly clear that lawmakers who wrote it see the bill as criticism of their belief that certain Hoosiers are unworthy of explicit protection. (The LGBTQ community was the clear, if unidentified, target of their “righteous” enmity.)
A very different perspective was offered by Michael Huber, who heads the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and Ann Murlow, CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. In a column written for the Indiana Business Journal, they reminded readers that Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.
It’s a blind spot in our justice system and a flaw in our business climate that becomes more conspicuous with each passing year.
Nationally, reports of crimes motivated by a victim’s unchangeable characteristics—such as race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity—increased 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. Stories of violence and vandalism from across the state show that Hoosiers aren’t immune to this trend.
The column reported on the establishment of a coalition called Forward Indiana by members of the business, nonprofit, education, faith, government and philanthropy communities.
That coalition understands that an inclusive bias-crimes law is good for people, employers and our state. The Indy Chamber has also reactivated the statewide Indiana Competes coalition, extending its anti-discrimination mission to make the business case for action against bias crimes.
Together, we represent thousands of companies, civic organizations, religious and social service groups, and individuals from all walks of life in support of a strong law with a clear list of personal characteristics that reflects the diversity of modern-day Hoosiers.
Simply put, we want Indiana to reject hate without loopholes or ambiguity.
Indiana Forward recognizes that failure to declare, in no uncertain terms, that government will forcefully protect its citizens from crimes motivated by the bigotries of other citizens would send a positive signal to self-righteous haters.
Huber and Murtlow are also absolutely right when they point out that passage of a hate crimes bill that is not inclusive, a bill that surrenders to theocratic demands to exclude certain citizens from its protection, would be an endorsement of the position that it is acceptable to hate members of that group.
If we go to the Statehouse ready to exclude some of our fellow citizens— trading equality for expediency—any victory would be a hollow one that surrenders any claim to real leadership….
If Indiana passes a bias-crimes bill in 2019 that pointedly excludes gender identity, it would only amplify the negative perceptions that hinder our economic development efforts.
No one wants another Religious Freedom Restoration Act; our partners still struggle with the fallout as they try to appeal to skilled workers, attract conventions and convince employers that Indiana is an inclusive and inviting state.
But the lesson of RFRA isn’t to avoid controversy, it’s that discrimination is bad for business and wrong for Indiana. Leaving gender identity out of bias-crimes legislation would leave us on the defensive, limiting our ability to welcome a diverse workforce and the business opportunities that follow.
It’s not enough to lead with an affordable business climate when human capital is also a top priority. Passing a watered-down bias-crimes law would force CEOs to rethink Indiana as a competitive place to recruit and retain talent.
We shouldn’t squander this opportunity to lead with hesitation or half-measures; the General Assembly should pass a strong bias-crimes law that doesn’t leave any Hoosiers behind.•
In other words, let’s bring Indiana into the 21st Century.