Friday, September 18, 2015

My Remarks to the Carmel City Council’s Finance, Administration and Rules Committee on the Proposed Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to the Carmel City Council’s Finance, Administration and Rules Committee on the subject of proposed ordinance D-2224-15 (found on page 57 of the linked .pdf file), commonly referred to as the “Anti-Discrimination Ordinance”. I was speaking on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. It was the understanding of the Commission that several amendments had been proposed for the ordinance and that the Committee was going to be discussing those amendments in addition to the ordinance itself. Thus, our Commission met last week to discuss the amendments and to determine what message, if any, to send to the Committee. I was asked to address the Committee on behalf of the Commission.

Below are my prepared remarks. Note that I’ve made one minor correction (I received a piece of demographic information from a member of the Commission following the delivery of my remarks and I’ve incorporated that into the following remarks). More importantly, at the beginning of the Committee meeting, we learned that the proposed amendments were not being considered; thus, I omitted the portion of my remarks that had been written specifically to address the amendments.* Nevertheless, I’ve included that portion of my remarks but I’ve marked that portion in green.

Councilor Snyder and other members of the City Council. My name is Michael Wallack and I am here on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. Thank you for allowing our Commission an opportunity to speak before the Finance Committee this evening. When I rose with Dee Thornton and Raju Chinthala to speak in favor of the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance at the August City Council meeting, our remarks were limited to telling you that our Commission had voted — unanimously — in favor of adoption of the ordinance. Tonight, I’d like to offer some additional substantive thoughts.

But first, I’d like to give you a little bit of demographic information about the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. I want you to understand that this Commission represents a true cross section of the population of Carmel in all of its diversity. The other members of the Commission have given me permission to share with you a little bit about who we are. At present, there are nine members of the Commission, five men and four women. Five of the members are white. But four are not. Two are Indian, one is African American, and one Japanese. Three are Christian, one is Mennonite, two are Jewish, one is Muslim, and one is Hindu. Four are immigrants (from Russia, Japan, and India). All but one are married or widowed and most (or even all) are parents. Our Commission includes both the Chief of Police and the Director of Human Resources for the Carmel Clay Schools. Oh, one more thing: None of the members of the Commission are gay, lesbian, or transgender, though some have family members who are. And in the interests of transparency, I spent some time as the chair of a gay rights organization.

So I hope that you recognize that our Commission is not merely some isolated group of Carmel residents but, rather, a group of people who reflects many of the differences to be found amongst, and hopefully appreciated by, the population of Carmel.

With regard to the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, the Commission remains strongly in favor of its passage. We met last Thursday and enjoyed a vigorous discussion about the ordinance and its meaning and intent. One thing that never came up as a matter for discussion was the idea of not adopting an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in Carmel. Phrases like “zero tolerance for discrimination” were uttered frequently and not only by the members of the Commission who hail from minority communities.

I want to briefly address a few matters that were nearly completely overlooked during the public discussion last month. One repeated refrain suggested that the ordinance would provide some kind of special status or treatment for the LGBT community. I seem to recall one person asking when he, as a straight, white, Christian, male would have a law to protect him. This sort of query and talking point has become quite common in the discussion of expanding civil rights laws. But it is a completely flawed argument. You see, the proposed ordinance doesn’t protect gays and lesbians. No. It protects people and it protects them on the basis of their sexual orientation. You know what? Straight is also a sexual orientation and the proposed ordinance will protect that straight, white, Christian, male on the basis of his sexual orientation just as it will protect a lesbian. The ordinance doesn’t protect Muslims. It protects people and it protects them on the basis of their religion. Christianity is protected in the same way that Islam or Judaism or Hinduism would be protected. So that straight, white, Christian, male will be given the same protections from discrimination. Similarly, the proposed ordinance will protect that man from discrimination on the basis of his gender and on the basis of his race. Caucasians and Christians are entitled to and given the same protections from discrimination as are members of minority racial and religious communities. It’s simply that because those are the majority groups, they are least likely to be discriminated against in the public sphere. So, the question isn’t which sexual orientations, religions, or races are protected. They all are and they all should be. And that’s what this ordinance would do.

It is important to remember and understand that the focus of the discussion may have been on protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but this ordinance protects far more people from far more types of discrimination, including discrimination based on age, gender, disability, veteran status, and marital and family status. Thus, for example, this ordinance would protect people on the basis of whether they are married, have children, are pregnant, and so forth. The opponents of this ordinance didn’t discuss opposition to any of those sorts of protections at all. They focused their ire on the notion of being prohibited from turning away members of the LGBT community.

Let’s be clear that this ordinance would not stop anyone from voicing their disapproval of anyone or any activity. It won’t interfere with what people can teach their children or what clergy can say from their pulpit. But it will protect the vulnerable from the negative impacts of those expressions and beliefs in the public sphere.

Furthermore, the ordinance protects people from far more than discrimination in the provision of flowers, wedding cakes, or photographs. It protects people against discrimination in housing and employment, too. It protects people in areas of public accommodation and education and contracting and an assortment of other public activities. In other words, it says that here in Carmel, in the public sphere, we deal with other on the basis of merit and character and not on the basis of characteristics and prejudices.

With regard to the amendments presently before the Finance Committee, our Commission spent some time discussing their meaning and potential ramifications. And, as I mentioned above, the end result was the repetition of the phrase “zero tolerance for discrimination”. In fact, there was some degree of discomfort expressed with some of the exclusions included in the original draft of the ordinance, but none of that discomfort was enough for us to withhold support for the ordinance. The same cannot, however, be said for these proposed amendments.

The biggest concern that our Commission had with the expansion of the exceptions was that they looked like Carmel was actually offering its residents and businesses a veiled license to discriminate. This is especially true of the exceptions in paragraphs 7 and 8 which are exceptionally broad. One member of our Commission expressed some sympathy for the idea that a photographer who was uncomfortable with a same-sex marriage ought not be compelled to accept that business. But when the scenario was changed so that the wedding involved an interracial couple, interreligious couple, or previously divorced couple, she withdrew her concern and recognized that we cannot permit characteristic-based discrimination in the business realm.

Similarly, the expansion of the exception in paragraph 1 seems to go far beyond the core functions of clerical and ministerial practice that should be and are given protection. There is already ample and evolving state and federal law with regard to the distinctions between ministerial and non-ministerial functions within religious institutions and schools. Expanding this exception seems unnecessary at best and, more likely, problematic.

One last point that I’d like to make. Think back to the arguments against this ordinance that you heard, almost all of which were focused on protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If you look back in history, sadly not too far back in our history, you will find many of the same arguments were raised against the right to interracial marriages; you will find many of the same arguments were raised against integrating schools, lunch counters, water fountains, and swimming pools. You will find many of the same arguments were used against women’s suffrage and the expansion of civil rights to protect other disadvantage groups or people against whom discrimination was deemed acceptable.

Times change but the arguments remain the same.

The next time Money Magazine ranks cities, we don’t want to read that Carmel is no longer the top place to live because it tolerates discrimination. We don’t want to read an article touting our roundabouts but noting that we declined to adopt a human rights ordinance. And we certainly don’t want to read about a business that chose to locate its headquarters in another community because of concerns about how Carmel views or treats minorities.

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations falls squarely on the side of expanding protections. We believe that Carmel must celebrate its diversity. That is part of being the world-class city that we view ourselves as or aspire to be. In our modern, global and competitive world, we need an ordinance that tells both our citizens and those who look at our city that we respect diversity and have little tolerance for discrimination, little tolerance for intolerance. This ordinance is an important statement and an important protection we owe to those among us who may be the subject of discrimination or even bigotry.

We urge the Finance Committee to reject the proposed amendments and to adopt the proposed ordinance.

I welcome any questions that you may have.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

*In my prepared remarks, I mention the exceptions included in the amendments that we understood to be before the Committee. I cannot find a version of the proposed ordinance online that includes those proposed amendments. Thus, I’ve included them here. New text is shown in blue. Deleted text is shown in red and strikethrough. I’ve only included the paragraphs from Section 2(c) of the proposed ordinance for which amendments had been suggested:

(1) Religious worship and clergy while engaged in religious duties or activities; including, but not limited to, schools, athletic and other educational programs; however, non-religious, for-profit business activities by entities or activities owned or engaged in by religious institutions or clergy are not excepted excluded.

(7) The refusal to provide off-business premises personal services.

(8) The refusal to create or produce custom products requested by customers.

Update: I forgot to mention that the my remarks were mentioned and quoted both by The Indianapolis Star and by The Current in Carmel (who initially misspelled my name, but corrected it upon request) and I’m shown briefly in the story on Fox 59 (sadly you can’t really see my cool purple & pink tie.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hyperbolic Rhetoric Run Amok or Another Peter Heck Column

A few weeks ago, I analyzed and critiqued a column by Peter Heck printed in The Indianapolis Star (Editorial Against Carmel Non-Discrimination Ordinance Makes No Sense). Well, this week, Heck was back with another column that is, if possible, even worse than the one that I wrote about. So, just for fun, let’s take a look at Heck’s newest diatribe against equality and fairness, shall we? As in prior similar posts, the original column is presented indented and in green with my commentary un-indented and in black.

Indy Star editorial campaign is a terrible idea

The Editorial Board of The Indianapolis Star is preparing an aggressive editorial campaign designed to push state lawmakers into enacting dangerous anti-First Amendment legislation in their coming session.

What? The editorial board of The Indianapolis Star is going to support a law that bans the right to a free press? No. Maybe prohibiting free speech? Nope. Not that either. Oh, maybe the editorial board wants the General Assembly to establish a Church of Indiana. Uh uh. Then it must be a play to outlaw Christianity or make all Hoosiers become Muslims, right? Wrong again. Hmm. Then what sort of “dangerous anti-First Amendment legislation” might Heck be talking about?

Karen Ferguson Fuson, The Star’s president and publisher, recently sent an invitation to community leaders from Central Indiana asking those leaders to visit The Star’s offices for a briefing about the newspaper’s plans.

Ooh, those nefarious journalists, telling people about their plans in advance. How sneaky.

Now, no one should be shocked to find out that The Star’s opinion team has chosen a side in this looming battle that will pit the rights of conscience against the unconstitutional demands of the rainbow mafia. Just remember that when honest Hoosiers were being fileted by the national media as angry bigots, The Star didn’t take up ink to defend our honor.

Aha! There we have it. Heck is worried about the battle in which the “rainbow mafia” makes “unconstitutional demands”. You know, I have to agree with Heck. I really think the plan to make everyone divorce their opposite-sex spouse and have a same-sex wedding is troubling. Um, wait. That isn’t the plan? Oh, well, then I suppose this rainbow mafia plans to make everyone bow down before and pray to some kind of rainbow idol, right? Like Gay Thor, or something? No? Then I guess I’m confused.

In all seriousness, think about how Heck refers to the “demands” by the LGBT community that they be treated equally and not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The mere demand to be treated equally is, according to Heck, unconstitutional, and those who would advocate for equality are part of a “rainbow mafia”. But I’m sure that those who simply want to exercise their “rights of conscience” against the LGBT community, you know, by turning away their business, refusing them housing, firing them, beating them to death, hanging them from fence posts, and so forth, are just good G-d-fearin’ folk, right? Remember Jesus’ commandment never to bake a cake for a gay wedding!

Heck seems to almost get it at the end of this paragraph … but no. Honest Hoosiers aren’t angry bigots, but those Hoosiers who seek to use their religious views as a sword against people who are different from them or have been marginalized by society, and who try to use the law protect their right to do so? Yeah, bigot seems to fit.

Instead, the paper fueled the absurd misrepresentation of Indiana by embarrassingly using an entire front page to demand our lawmakers “fix” a law that was nothing more than a reaffirmation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rather than thoughtfully counter the anti-Indiana hatred, The Star unwisely provided that hatred unwarranted justification and validation, thereby hurting the state and its people.

I’ve already written a lengthy post about RFRA and the so-called “fix” (RFRA: Some History, Some Analysis, Some Thoughts); no need to re-hash all of that here. But to suggest that RFRA is some kind of “reaffirmation” of the First Amendment is … well, ludicrous seems to be a good word. The First Amendment was never a shield against complying with laws, at least it wasn’t until passage of RFRA and the twisting of the original intent of that law.. However, the rise of a vocal advocacy movement supporting equal rights for the LGBT community and for recognition of same-sex marriages (together with the mandate for employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control) seems to have sparked outrage among some who believe that their free exercise of religion allows them to refuse to be bound by laws of general applicability. That is not what the First Amendment is now or has ever been about.

It’s important to note that The Star is a corporately owned entity and there is nothing inappropriate about a company and its leaders expressing their views. The Star’s editors are completely entitled to articulate opinions that are consistent with their deeply held moral convictions, even if they are ironically preparing a campaign to deny that same right to business owners and citizens who hold different moral convictions.

I thought Heck was going to stay on safe ground with this paragraph, until he got to that last bit. Nobody, and no law, would deny a business owner or citizen the right to articulate any opinion or moral conviction. If you want to post a sign in your window saying “I hate Muslims” or “I hate faggots” then go for it. The law will protect you. If you want to post a sign in your window saying “If you don’t accept Jesus, you’ll burn in Hell” or “Scientology is a cult” then go for it. The law will protect you.

Heck could have written a column that would lead to honest, good faith discussion of parameters of public behavior and the intersection of rights and responsibilities or the clash between rights of different people. But that would be a column for someone interested in reasoned debate and civic discourse. Heck, apparently, prefers to throw bombs and pour gasoline on fires. How else to explain his claim that The Indianapolis Star will be supporting a campaign to “deny” people the right “to articulate opinions”. There is en enormous gulf between “articulating” an opinion and using a protected class (race, religion, gender, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity) to refuse to do business with someone, fire them or refuse to hire them, refuse them housing, and so forth.

But if you turn away business from someone because of their skin color, even if you base your actions on your understanding of some deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil, rather than theocratic society, has deemed just. If you try refuse to hire someone because they pray to a different deity than you, even if you base your actions on your understanding of your deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil society has deemed just. If you refuse to rent your apartment to someone because of where their parents were born or because of a disability they have, even if you base your actions on your understanding of your deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil society has deemed just. And all we’re really talking about doing is adding to those sort of protections, the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person. Oh, and make no mistake: Those protections would also prevent a gay florist from refusing to provide flowers to the wedding of an evangelical Christian who articulates the view that homosexuality is a sin.

But I would caution the leadership of a newspaper I have always loved that becoming the mouthpiece for a movement that cheers the financial ruin of Christian families trying to faithfully obey God before men, might not be a great business decision.

There is hyperbole and there is simply being a fucking asshole. A “movement that cheers the financial ruin of Christian families”? Really? That’s how Heck describes the LGBT rights movement that seeks equality and seeks to be sure that those who refuse to follow the law be subject to the penalties appropriate for choosing to violate the law. Nobody wants the “financial ruin” of anyone and it has nothing to do with whether those families are Christian. Rather, what the LGBT community wants now, just as the African-American community, Asian community, minority religious communities, the disabled, and other groups have fought for in the past, is simply the right to be treated equally. Neither businesses nor Christian families will suffer financial ruin if they obey the law. It’s that simple. Don’t use a tiny subset of your religious beliefs to discriminate against others and you won’t face any sort of penalties for breaking any laws.

Since the Supreme Court issued its marriage edict, three separate national polls show support for this gay revolution crumbling dramatically. And why wouldn’t it? Any movement that harasses everyone who disagrees with their totalitarian schemes as bigots and haters, and offensively degrades the legacy of Bible-preaching civil rights marchers by equating them to drag queens, isn’t going to win over the hearts and minds of good people. And any newspaper that ties itself to such a crowd willfully destroys its own credibility among the people it serves.

I’d be curious to see the national polls that Heck is referring to (both with regard to the questions being asked by the pollsters, the methodology, and the actual results). But it’s probably worth noting how Heck refers to the drive toward equality as the “gay revolution”. Was the 1960s civil rights movement a “black revolution”? What about the fight for women’s suffrage? A vagina revolution?

And then Heck goes back to his demonizing of those who seek to be treated with equality. Of course, Heck and those who agree with him have never harassed anyone who disagreed with them, have they? They’ve never argued for the right to refuse housing, services, or employment to those who they disfavored, have they? They’ve never bombed abortion clinics or crucified gay men, have they? They’ve never refused to issue marriage licenses, even after the Supreme Court tells them they must. Of course not. Only the “rainbow mafia” harasses those who disagree, right? It really is amazing how people like Heck seem to reverse the roles of oppressed minority and oppressing majority, isn’t it. And the worst part about that is that I really think that many of those who read Heck’s columns approvingly don’t even realized that they are the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

But even that claim isn’t enough for Heck. No, he has to take his over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric even further claiming that the LGBT community’s fight for equality is a “totalitarian scheme”. At some point you have to wonder if Heck just throws darts at a list of “evil” words that he keeps on his wall. Just think about that one for a minute: It is a “totalitarian scheme” to ask to be treated equally. Yep, totalitarian regimes are famous for the equality that they grant to citizens.

Oh, but even the “totalitarian” reference pales in comparison to Heck’s claim that it is demeaning to those who marched for civil rights to compare them “to drag queens”. Yep. According to Heck, the entire LGBT community can be boiled down to and stereotyped as simply a bunch of drag queens. It has nothing to do with loving families, or dignity; it has nothing to do with wanting a safe place to live and work and raise children; it has nothing to do with not wanting to be fired for who you love or refused service because of who you are; it has nothing to do with the children of LGBT parents. Nope. None of that is the issue here to people like Heck; rather, the only thing is those weird dudes in dresses (probably sneaking into the women’s room to do nefarious things). Of course, one of the best ways to marginalize and/or demonize a minority community is to use crass and base stereotypes that have been behind the discrimination against and even brutality toward that community throughout history. Once it was African-Americans. Once it was Jews. Or Italians. Or Catholics. And now it’s LGTB individuals. The targets may change, but the hatred, bigotry, and fear remain mostly the same.

If you don’t think that’s happening, consider that since Gannett Corporation obtained The Indy Star in 1999, the paper has taken a hard left turn in its opinion writing. How far left? In the midst of the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act debate, liberal columnist Matthew Tully actually wrote that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle might “save” the Indiana Republican Party given his strident opposition to protecting religious freedom in the state.

The Indianapolis Star as a “far left” publication. That is, perhaps, one of the funniest things that I’ve read in a long, long time. Actually, it’s not funny it all. It’s not funny because, even though the statement is laughably ridiculous, it’s being uttered and, undoubtedly, being believed by some.

Is Matt Tully left of center? Maybe. He’s certainly written many things that make me think that he has a liberal worldview. But you know what? He’s also written some things that seem to come from a right-of-center perspective, too. And one columnist does not define the paper. If The Indianapolis Star was so far to the left, neither staff cartoonist Gary Varvel nor columnists like Heck or the “Chicks on the Right” would have a place to air their views. Nor, for that matter, would we be subjected to the opinions of any of the right-of-center national columnists regularly published in The Indianapolis Star. And is it possible, just maybe, that the editorial views of The Indianapolis Star are driven, in some small part, by the views expressed by its readers?

Contemplate Tully’s ludicrous premise: The CEO of a company that has never turned an annual profit needed to save a political party that’s been so successful it holds supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, the governor’s mansion, and every statewide elected office except two.

I’ll let Republicans fight their own internal battles over the face and future of their party. Who knows. Maybe a majority of Hoosiers do want to take their state back … back to 1850. As to the supermajorities, that’s the simple result of gerrymandering designed to protect one party’s grip on power and that serves to drive candidates further and further to the political extremes and eliminate the need for moderation or compromise. Think of it less as an indicator of success and more as the result of a scorched earth strategy.

So rather than reading the demands of The Star’s editors in the coming session, state lawmakers would be better advised to look at what is happening in communities from Goshen to Carmel when cities attempt to enact local versions of this dangerous legislation. In Carmel, constituents who pummeled councilmen with overwhelming opposition to the ordinance far outnumbered those who voiced their support. Extrapolate that outward to the entire state to get a sense for how unpopular The Star’s coming campaign will be outside the echo chamber of socially liberal corporate and media boardrooms.

Ah, yes. Back to calling non-discrimination legislation “dangerous”. Um, hey, Pete, what exactly is “dangerous” about saying that all people should be treated equally within the public sphere? Did you notice that he’s never really explained that, other than to say that people of “conscience” might have to … um … well … er … I don’t know. Bake cakes or arrange flowers?

One other thing to note here: I was at the Carmel City Council meeting; in fact, I spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations (I wish I had been able to speak individually and respond to some of the misinformation provided by opponents of the ordinance). Heck is right that those who spoke against the ordinance outnumbered those who spoke in favor; it was a mistake by those who favor equality not to have more voices present to articulate the importance of non-discrimination and human rights laws. And Heck is also right that the constituents (actually some who spoke against the ordinance weren’t constituents at all…) “pummeled” the Council (though I’m not sure that I’d use that word in a way that describes the success of their arguments instead of the mere repetition of the views and vehemence of their statements). What Heck fails to mention is that virtually every one of those people based their opposition to the ordinance on their Christian beliefs. (I may take the time one of these days to compile my tweets from that meeting; trust me, it was ugly. Funny at times, but ugly.) Heck further fails to mention that the ordinance in question is intended to protect not just sexual orientation and gender identity, but also race, religion, gender, age, disability , national origin, veteran status, and family and marital status. Oh, and he also fails to mention that, with one or two exceptions, every person who spoke against the ordinance was probably old enough to collect social security.

Regardless of the media’s ignorant portrayal, Hoosiers aren’t haters. They are good people tired of being maligned for their faith in God’s Word as a more reliable foundation for our culture’s moral compass than what trends on Twitter. And let’s hope that their elected representatives will recognize that despite the coming headlines on The Star’s opinion content, these so-called anti-discrimination statutes are nothing but thinly veiled assaults on the constitutionally protected rights of conscience, and should be thoroughly rejected.

No. Hoosiers aren’t haters. But the Hoosiers who would stand against laws that seek to prohibit discrimination, the Hoosiers who would use their religious views (and only a tiny, tiny subset of those religious views, while they ignore many others) as a sword to pummel one particular minority community, the Hoosiers who claim that it is intolerant to call them out for their intolerance? Those Hoosiers are haters. Those people can stand on their porches and pulpits and shout to the heavens about just how much they hate homosexuality (or African-Americans or Muslims or Democrats) and they can think those thoughts all they want. But what we can’t let them do is to move those thoughts and ideas from their pulpits and porches into the public sphere in a way that causes actual harm to others.

And that is just what discrimination does.

It hurts.

And hurting people because of the deity they worship, the color of their skin, or who they love, is not the America that most of us recognize and treasure.

Oh, and just as I was about to publish this post, I came across the following photo taken outside the Federal Courthouse in Kentucky where the fate of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was being decided (she was found in contempt):

Love or be damned

This photo seems to sum up so much of how these arguments play out, doesn’t it?

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