Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Editorial Against Carmel Non-Discrimination Ordinance Makes No Sense

I wrote this at lunch on Monday, August 17. I really wanted to post it before the Carmel City Council meeting Monday night. But I never got a chance to proofread it so I refrained from posting. I decided to go ahead and finish, even if it is a bit late now. I’ve chosen not to add to the post on the basis of the hearing (which I sat through for hour after painful hour), other than to correct a misunderstanding.

Later today, the Carmel City Council will begin discussing a broad anti-discrimination ordinance (often referred to as a “human rights ordinance” or “HRO”). The Indianapolis Star has already taken an editorial position in support of that ordinance and I applaud the paper for doing so. However, it struck me as more than a bit odd, that on the day that the ordinance will be discussed (if not voted upon), The Indianapolis Star chose to print a lengthy op-ed from conservative radio personality Peter Heck who, it seems, has become one of The Star’s “go to” people to express the views from the (far) right of the political spectrum.

I want to take a look at a few of Heck’s statements in his op-ed, but first I want to offer a brief look at some of Heck’s prior statements so that you can see just where on the political spectrum his views can be placed. It’s not surprising that he would be opposed to Carmel’s proposed HRO given that he has previously claimed that opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) “is the reincarnation of a neo-fascist view” and “a frightening appeal to a 21st century reincarnation of fascism”. Or there was the time that Heck said that liberals:

have decided their political agenda is going to be all about the advancement of sexual anarchy, the sexual anarchy crusade. That is what they have made their political movement about. So whatever the other consequences are, whatever else has to be trampled in the process, even if it means the health of people, it doesn’t matter, the most important thing to Hillary is not stopping AIDS, it’s not stopping HIV, no, no the most important thing is a political agenda.

And there was his reminiscence about the days when homosexuality was illegal:

When you step back, and you look at what has been achieved by this anti-family, pro-sexual anarchy movement and crowd and the left in just the last just ten years alone it’s remarkable. I don’t know if remarkable is the right descriptor for it but it’s unbelievable. How does that happen? Let’s zero in on homosexuality, specifically the practice of homosexuality, how does something go from being a forbidden vice, which is what it was, something that was against the law, to the point where it is now being publicly embraced and endorsed by sitting governors and even presidents of the United States? How does that happen?

Note, too, his claim that those who advocate for same-sex marriage are “anti-family”.

OK. I think you get the idea and thus shouldn’t be surprised that Heck is opposed to the proposed Carmel HRO. (For those interested, at the end of this post I’ve compiled a few more of Heck’s greatest hits, just from columns in The Indianapolis Star in 2015.)

So let’s look at some of Heck’s complaints:

So why enact such a controversial measure to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Because, Brainard pontificates, it is simply the “right thing to do.”

Pardon my cynicism, but this move isn’t about “doing the right thing.” If it were, why arbitrarily pick out this one issue and act, instead of a host of other things we could equally say would be “the right thing?” The answer is obvious: this is about placating an aggressively loud and intimidating LGBT lobby. It’s about garnering the accolades of a complicit media. It’s shameless pandering by politicians desperate to be allowed to sit at the cultural cool kids’ table, regardless of the damage it will inflict on their fellow citizens.

You see, in Heck’s world, people don’t act from altruism. They don’t act because they want to protect others. They don’t act out of a sense of shared humanity or discomfort at seeing others treated unequally. Nope. They don’t even act because businesses have argued that potential employees or clients might want a governmental structure that advocates and supports equality in treatment. Nope. The only reason that Heck can see to pass a law that requires that people be treated fairly is to “placate” an “aggressively loud and intimidating” lobby and to “garner” accolades from the media.

Oh, and what “damage” will be inflicted on citizens who must treat others fairly? Heck worries about the fines that will be leveled against businesses but seems to jump over the whole point that if the business doesn’t discriminate, it won’t need to worry about fines. I’d be curious to know if Heck takes issue with civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or religion, too. (Note that the proposed Carmel HRO is not directed solely at sexual orientation and gender identity; it also applies to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, family or marital status, ancestry, age, and status as a veteran.)

Heck also seems to make fun of the different types of gender expressions that people may have by pointing to some of the expression choices offered by Facebook. Apparently, in Heck’s world, it is still acceptable to make fun of people on the basis of who they are or who their expressions of self-identity. Of particular interest in the list of gender expressions that Heck cites, seemingly as a joke, is that of “two-spirit”. Too bad Heck didn’t bother to research that one a bit; after all, the two-spirit was the Native American understanding of transgender identity. Two-spirits were welcomed in most Native American cultures and were often married to those of the same physical gender but treated as a part of the gender group with which the two-spirit identified. Traditional marriage, anyone?

Heck also quotes some social scientists (I haven’t had time to research their work or reputations in detail, though I did find this quotation from one of the authors discussing post-operative transgender  patients: “The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women”) who claim: “Social science research continues to show that sexual orientation, unlike race, color, and ethnicity, is neither a clearly defined concept nor an immutable characteristic of human beings.” (Emphasis added.) Note anything odd about that statement that Heck seems to ignore? How about religion. Is religion a “clearly defined concept”? Seems hard to believe it is, given the wars that we’ve had over religious belief, the creation of new religions to justify political or social views (Church of England, anyone?) and the difficulty we have determining which religions are “real” (is Scientology a religion? Santeria? Wicca? Pastafarianism?; we know that some on the right don’t believe that Islam is a “true” religion). Furthermore, the last time I checked, religion was certainly not immutable. So if we are concerned about basing employment issues on immutable characteristics, then I suppose we better take religion out of the list of protected classes.

Heck then tells us what he really thinks that this is all about: “[L]et’s not forget the real targets of this dangerous ordinance: men and women of faith.” Yeah, that must be it. A group of six Republican, Christian city counselors and a Republican Christian mayor have decided to target people of faith. Do people like Heck even think before they start pontificating or leveling accusations? [At the hearing, the Council made it clear that co-sponsoring the ordinance did not necessarily indicate support for its passage, but only support to have the ordinance on the Council’s agenda for discussion.]

Heck then tries to advance his argument by quoting Mayor Brainard … but cutting the quotation short:

But don’t take my word for it. In a moment of ill-advised transparency, Brainard actually admitted his decidedly anti-American views on faith in the workplace, writing, “there is a distinct difference between how we worship our God in our churches, our homes and our hearts versus how we live.” Perhaps for you, mayor. But for many of the rest of us, our faith is who we are, not something we simply do on Sunday mornings. And we are no more willing to treat our beliefs as an on/off switch than we are to bow the knee to a city administration abusing its power to tell us we must.

First, consider Mayor Brainard’s actual statement and note the context that Heck chose to omit:

I feel it is important that we recognize there is a distinct difference between how we worship our God in our churches, our homes and our hearts versus how we live, play and conduct business in the melting pot of mixed faiths and passions that we call America.

Many of the world’s traditional faiths teach and believe the following: Men and women from all walks of life must be treated with respect, compassion and kindness and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. It is time that we stop trying to define each other by the variety of labels society has created. It is far past the time that we look past the colors of our skin, the appearance of our bodies and the choices we make in the privacy of our own lives. It is time we see each other as human beings first and foremost.

The ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed to U.S. citizens in the First Amendment to the Constitution does not give one the right to discriminate. If one were to claim that their religion allows discrimination in treatment of certain groups does it not follow that one can then be exempt from being charged with murder, robbery, theft and other crimes so long as it is done under the auspices of some ‘religion?’

I hope that this ordinance will make clear to everyone that Carmel continues to be a welcoming place for anyone to pursue life, liberty and happiness with a common respect for each other's dignity.

Hmm. I wonder why Heck decided not omit the rest of Mayor Brainard’s comment and focus, instead, just on a portion of once sentence. Could it be that, had Heck quoted Mayor Brainard in toto, he would not have been able to claim that Mayor Brainard’s views are “decidedly anti-American”? Moreover, I find it interesting that Heck talks about religion being something that people can’t switch on or off. I’m not sure that anyone suggested that. Nor, do I believe, that Mayor Brainard suggested that religion belongs only in churches or is only practiced on Sunday (hey, Mr. Heck: Not everyone worships on Sunday…). Rather, what I think a fair reading of Mayor Brainard’s statement shows is that we, as citizens — as Americans — must find ways to work together while in the sphere of public life and business. America hasn’t prospered because we’ve relegated “the other” to the sideline of public life; rather, unlike so much of the world, we’ve prospered because we’ve found ways around our bigotries so that we can all be treated as equals. If you want to discriminate in your home or your church, go right ahead; the law will allow it. But leave those views out of how we deal with each other in public.

Remember: This law is about preventing discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in businesses open to the public. So tell me what kind of religious faith demands or expects its adherents to demonstrate fidelity to their faith by discriminating against others? Is that really the hallmark of belief in any deity? Is that what Jesus wanted or would understand?

Finally, Heck can’t possibly end his diatribe without an insult directed at Mayor Brainard and the City Council when he refers to “dull-witted and morally obtuse leadership”. Remind me again the percentage by which Mayor Brainard won in May’s primary? Moreover, several of the City Council members who are co-sponsoring this ordinance lost in the primary to allies of Mayor Brainard (and City Council President Rick Sharp lost to Mayor Brainard). In other words, we have several City Council members who have already been voted out of office and who will be replaced by new City Council members who included a human rights ordinance as a part of their campaign platforms, still co-sponsoring this legislation. [Again, recall my previous comment regarding the meaning of co-sponsorship; apparently, this was misunderstood by everyone, including The Indianapolis Star.] Obviously, it can’t be for political expediency or to keep their offices, can it?

Heck also asks “why enact such a controversial measure to solve a problem that doesn’t exist”. First, just because the Mayor hasn’t heard of acts of discrimination, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist; after all, a person who is discriminated against but who has no recourse isn’t likely to take action, are they? Moreover, I don’t recall Republicans voting down either RFRA or voter ID laws because they problems that those laws sought to address didn’t exist. And if there is one thing that we do know, it’s that discrimination does still exist.

I hope that people aren’t swayed by the specious arguments that Heck and those with similar views express. I hope that people will support Mayor Brainard and the members of the Carmel City Council who believe that a non-discrimination ordinance is in the best interests of the residents of Carmel. I hope that Carmel will continue to act in ways that make it a model for the other communities in the state and demonstrating a commitment to tolerance and against discrimination would be another step in that direction.

For those who are curious, I found a few more interesting comments from Peter Heck’s other columns in The Indianapolis Star just during 2015.

In an essay about “science” (The Indianapolis Star, July 30, 2015), Heck rails against science and efforts to ban “gay conversion therapy” (which most scientists view as “pseudo-science” and potentially harmful) and the very notion that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate characteristics while claiming that homosexuality is just an “urge” to be resisted:

Having abandoned belief in any Moral Authority to the universe, liberal revolutionaries have been claiming the mantle of science as justification for their agenda for far longer than I can remember. And their hijacking of the word has resulted in great success for them politically and culturally. My only question: How long will our society be stupid enough to keep buying it?

After all, this is a movement that goes so far in their insistence that sexual attraction is inborn and unchangeable that they seek to enact laws actually forbidding someone experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction from seeking psychiatric help to overcome their urges. Apparently “respecting the sexual preferences of the individual” counts only when that sexual preference is to act on an urge rather than to resist it.

Yet these same folks who claim that sexual attraction is unalterable also insist that men like Bruce Jenner, undeniably born with genetic maleness (DNA, chromosomes, bone structure, and functioning reproductive organs of a male) can somehow “become” a woman. Yes, the “party of science” would have you believe that your attractions are unchangeably genetic in nature, but your genetic biology is a matter of personal opinion.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood, Heck said (The Indianapolis Star, July 18, 2015): “Truth be told, we don’t need investigations for these people. We need paddy wagons and iron bars.” Of course, the bad acts of which Heck complains are legal (and don’t forget that Indiana did investigate Planned Parenthood and found that it was not doing anything illegal).

And here is what Heck had to say about the Indiana Pride parade (The Indianapolis Star, June 18, 2015):

No one else seems willing to say it, so I will. It’s gross. And it in no way represents all people with same-sex attraction any more than a parade of pornographers would represent all with opposite-sex attraction. This isn’t about homosexuality, although that is the over-arching theme of the parade and larger festival.

I know several individuals who experience same-sex attraction. Some deal with it the way Scripture teaches, taking captive every sinful thought and urge (including the temptation toward homosexuality) and making them obedient to the will of Christ. Others choose to act on their same-sex attraction and live a gay lifestyle. But what I’ve seen in all these individuals tells me that they are most likely appalled by the debauchery on display at pride parades.

Note that he can’t quite bring himself to call homosexuality anything other than “same-sex attraction” as if it’s simply a choice that people make, you know, like which god to pray to.

While I’m certainly not an expert on the state of Christianity and Christian churches in the United States, this statement from Heck (The Indianapolis Star, May 29, 2015) seems … um … odd:

After all, speaking the exclusivity of Christ — that whole “no man comes to the Father except by me” thing — or preaching repentance will not make anyone feel affirmed. Everyone can see how painfully un-hip such a message is in contemporary American society.

In fact, churches committed to that outdated way of thinking might be accused of acting like some prudish carpenter of antiquity whose obsessive devotion to unpopular notions of right and wrong, good and evil, consigned him to the outskirts of society rather than the mainstream, to preaching from hillsides rather than from behind gold-crusted lecterns.

It’s curious, isn’t it? Somehow American Christians convinced themselves that becoming more like Jesus of Nazareth would make them more attractive to the world; but the exact opposite is true. After all, why would they treat us any different than they treated him? Confusing that reality has the American church all kinds of backwards. If the world adores us for the words we speak, it is not because those words are loving and good. It is because they are cowardly and compromising. And that’s the real problem we face in our churches.

Does anyone else get the feeling that only Christians — and the right kind of Christians at that — are welcome in Heck’s version of Indiana or the United States? No thank you.

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