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What Can Indiana Fix?

By Leah Smiley

indianaFirst, let me preface this conversation by stating unequivocally:  religion, politics, and business (in a capitalistic economy) DO NOT mix well.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has caused such an uproar in the last couple of weeks that it’s hard to believe that nearly two dozen other states have the same law. Apparently in Indiana, the bill’s intent of protecting businesses does not align with its impact of hurting companies that do business in the state of Indiana. Even the Society for Diversity got “the message”. In response to a recent membership promotion advertising a partnership with The Derwin Smiley Show and the Indianapolis 500, one person said:

“I would ask you to revisit this contest considering what is happening in Indy right now. I don’t think it is in the best interest of any person or groups of people who work on diversity matters to be supporting anything in Indiana.”

My staff freaked out! Meanwhile, Indiana’s Governor seems to be unfazed by all of the negative attention the bill is receiving in his state.

Governor Mike Pence recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal doubling down on his position. He asserted that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is “Ensuring Religious Freedom in Indiana” because it is a law that was intended to preempt the Affordable Care Act from forcing businesses to act against their religious beliefs in the provision of healthcare or insurance.

Yet, something about this RFRA law seems unnecessary, even exorbitant, in the quest for religious “freedom”. Even in the other states where the law has been successfully enacted, there is the stench of religious intolerance– the same kind that has driven millions of believers away from various monotheistic faiths. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

I live in Indiana, and the Society for Diversity is headquartered in Indiana.The Society for Diversity’s position on the law is that no organization in the United States should be allowed to legally discriminate against any person for any reason. After all, if you are going to be in business for the long-term, you must serve more people than your competitors– and you have to serve them better than your competitors. This is the competitive advantage of diversity. Additionally, if we are going to bring “religion” into the conversation, what ever happened to doing what is right?

Currently, business leaders are organizing a statewide effort to fix the law. As this process plays out, I would like to know what would you suggest?

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Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.

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