Masterpiece Cakeshop – The Five Key Takeaways

Friends,

I don’t know if you’ve been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that matter yesterday—but we have. It’s the case of a religious man, a baker, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

At Tanenbaum, we see this case as raising core questions of our national identity. We actually filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court because this case challenges us to answer:

  • How can we live respectfully and honor our differences as a religiously diverse country?
  • What do we do, when core principles that guide us—like the right to freely practice our faith and the right to live and go into stores without suffering discrimination—clash?
  • Where do we draw the line between a religious baker who objects to baking a cake based on his deeply held beliefs, and a gay couple protected by their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they want to purchase goods for their wedding?

In the decision, a majority of the Court agreed that the case presented difficult questions. Rather than answer those difficult questions, however, the Court focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it described as “inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” In fact, the Supreme Court held that their deliberations reflected “religious hostility” and were neither “tolerant nor respectful of” the baker’s religious beliefs.

By ruling that the underlying procedures were unfair and declining to reach the difficult questions, the Court put these foundational questions off for another day. But that is only one of The Five Key Takeaways from Masterpiece Cakeshop.

1. “IT’s not over”… The court’s ruling was narrow… the question of how to implement religious freedom when it results in not complying with anti-discrimination laws is yet to be determined.

2. YES! Those who implement the law must be neutral and practice respect (including respect for religion and diverse religious beliefs)! The principle behind the court’s narrow decision is spot on. Those who implement our laws must do so in an even-handed, neutral way and that means…they cannot demean / evidence bias against / or ridicule religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) with which they disagree during a legal proceeding. And that principle applies both to regulatory commissioners and judges in our courts, whether they are secular or deeply religious.

3. The Court says the LGBTQI community deserves dignity…but members of that community still have to ask, “What happens when I get married?” Though the Masterpiece Court spoke of the critical need to respect LGBTQI people in the public square, there is now an aura of uncertainty for the gay community. Yes, they can legally marry. But they still have to ask: “Will I be able to purchase the wedding cake, flowers, or hire the best photographer in town?” AND, “Will I be able to adopt a child?”

4. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates tolerance in the application of the law, religious freedom, and in our treatment of the gay community—but what do we really mean by tolerance? The Court tells us what it doesn’t look like. But what does it look like? And how do we put it into practice?

5. The Supreme Court has a critical role to play in how our country moves forward. Objections to providing services based on religious beliefs can have long-term implications for religious freedom—and whether it survives for all of us. Freedom of religion is preserved in the First Amendment. To put it into practice, however, we rely on anti-discrimination laws that require people to provide goods and services no matter someone’s religion. Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people against racial bias, age discrimination, bias based on ability status, and in some states, bigotry based on sexual orientation. If the religious beliefs of someone choosing to serve the public are legally able to undo these laws when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation, why can’t those same religious beliefs allow for discrimination based on a customer’s religious or non-religious beliefs? Why couldn’t a baker refuse to bake a cake for an interfaith couple, because one of them was Jewish and her Christian partner might be led astray? Or because the couple were atheists? Muslims? Sikhs?

So where does the ruling leave us, as a country? That, my friends, is up to us.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


Photo credit: AP

Religious Diversity Leadership Summit: Raising the Bar

This year’s third annual Religious Diversity Leadership Summit was the largest one yet, with attendance near capacity and a waitlist in hand. Tanenbaum’s first full day Summit boasts 155 attendees and 23 speakers plus moderators from 64 companies, spanning 18 industries. The day included four concurrent breakout sessions addressing focused topics, another first for the Summit. Hosted by Bloomberg, the Summit was sponsored by Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

Speakers shared personal stories to highlight pragmatic approaches to handling religious diversity in the workplace, showing attendees that this topic is not just about professional policies, it’s also about the people. Amin Kassam, keynote speaker and Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel at Bloomberg, eloquently spoke of his trepidation of coming out of two closets, as gay and as Muslim, during his professional life and highlighted some of his challenges. He courageously discussed the intersectionality of his religious and sexual identities in a way that was moving and inspiring.

Panelists and moderators in the programs that followed repeatedly came back to the importance of “bringing ones’ whole self to work” and the positive impact, as well as sometimes challenges, this can have for everyone. This was addressed in the context of varying positions of power in a company, the impact of generational norms, and the influence of different company cultures (corporate, non-profit, government, etc.).

In response to the Summit, attendees shared the following reactions and takeaways from the day:

  • “I have attended the previous conference[s]. They just keep getting better.”
  • “I appreciated ‘respectful curiosity. As a baby boomer, I was taught never to ask questions about why people are different. However, I always found [that] by asking respectful questions, you get to learn the culture and practices of others.”
  • As organizations, we celebrate what we value. [Also,] don’t be paralyzed by potential backlash. Instead, be prepared to ask people what they want/need when they raise concerns and say ‘What about me?’
  • “The Senior Leadership Panel described strong actions implemented at their company that describes the financial [return on investment] from diversity and inclusion. Using the Learning Lab assignment with Senior Management will generate dialogue and ultimately result in exercise to implement with staff.”

Pragmatic approaches were presented together with presenters’ stories, which provided an element of transparency that many attendees were pleasantly surprised to experience. From Mr. Kassam’s speech to the six different panels to Deputy CEO Mark Fowler’s Learning Lab, the Summit provided attendees with personal insight and practical knowledge of how to handle religion in the workplace. The overarching message of the day as one attendee so powerfully articulated was that diversity of religion is a fact, but inclusion of religion is a choice.”

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Today is Tanenbaum’s #givebackwednesday!

Download and share our tips for Respectful Communication

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was #givingtuesday. And I’m sure you were bombarded with worthy causes asking for your support. To those of you who gave to make the world a better place—in whatever way you chose to do so—we say thanks.

In honor of what we call #givebackwednesday, I want to share our tips for Respectful Communication. At a time when people are talking about (and worried about) conversations at upcoming holiday dinners, great communication is one of the best gifts you can share—with family, neighbors and colleagues.

Thank you, again, for all you do.

Cheers,

Joyce

P.S. And if you haven’t already, please consider making a donation to Tanenbaum.

The “Holiday Tree”

Credit: Flickr

In a recent speech, President Trump announced: “we’re saying merry Christmas again.” This statement started the yearly conversation about what Tanenbaum calls the “December Dilemma.” Every year, we get questions from clients about different aspects of December Dilemma (the period roughly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s), including decorations, parties, gift exchanges, and greetings. As companies strive to become more inclusive, Christmas poses a challenge: how do you make the holiday season more inclusive without alienating employees who have come to expect and enjoy overt acknowledgements of Christmas?

One trend that I have noticed over the past couple of years is the emergence of the “holiday tree.” Sometimes when we ask a client if their offices are decorated for Christmas, they reply, “No, we don’t have Christmas decorations, just a secular holiday tree in the lobby.” The first time I heard this, I made a note to look up “secular holiday tree” after the call. After talking to my colleagues, I realized that what the client meant was essentially a Christmas tree without religious or overtly Christmas-y (red and green) decorations.

I think the “holiday tree” is a good example of the balance that many companies try to strike during the December Dilemma. Take something that used to be a company tradition, like an office Christmas party, and make it more “secular” by turning it into a “holiday party.” But is a holiday party really any different from a Christmas party if all that has changed is the name?

To me, a holiday tree is a Christmas tree, whether you call it that or not. Is there a difference between a towering Christmas tree with an angel on top and a nativity scene nearby and a smaller Christmas tree with subtle silver decorations? Yes. The former is more closely related to the religious roots of the holiday, while the latter is more in line with a secular celebration and is likely more appropriate for the workplace. But they are both Christmas decorations.

According to Pew, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas. That means there are plenty of people who celebrate Christmas but don’t necessarily identify as Christian. Additionally, 32% of Americans say that for them, Christmas is more of a cultural holiday (as opposed to a religious one). It follows, then, that it isn’t just Christian employees who would be happy to see Christmas decorations at work. At the same time, there are non-Christian employees (and some Christians, like Seventh Day Adventists) who wouldn’t be so happy. And I am not convinced that having a silver Christmas tree instead of a red and green one makes a big difference for that group. What would be more significant would be decorating, acknowledging, and celebrating diverse holidays. It is okay to acknowledge Christmas, as long as it isn’t the only holiday that is acknowledged throughout the year.

[Click here for more tips on how to handle the December Dilemma]

By Liz Joslin,
Workplace Program Senior Associate, Tanenbaum

Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs

From Competence to Confidence: Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

Tanenbaum’s second Religious Diversity Leadership Summit took place on May 23rd at Bloomberg, LP. Over 100 people from more than 35 companies attended the event. In its second year, this event grew 65% in attendance and was twice as long. The Summit was made possible by our generous sponsors: Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

According to our post-event survey, some of the most important takeaways from the event included:

  • “…this summit helped me uncover the fact that religion is often neglected and never discussed yet it’s KEY in bringing our whole selves to work, therefore we should be talking about its impact way more.”
  • “I…was on the fence about interfaith ERG’s, but now I’m sold. I plan to use the notes to start discussion with our team.”
  • “Hearing from leaders who have been successful in implementing religious diversity programs as well as representation from the regulatory agency was a fantastic opportunity.”

We can’t wait to further grow the Summit in 2018!

We’ve Made Our Pledge – 150 CEOs Take Action!

Dear Friends,

Amid the drumbeat of political news, something powerful happened yesterday that I find exciting. Globally, we took a giant step toward justice and respect when the newly formed CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion announced that 150 corporate executives from major companies pledged to work toward more diverse, inclusive and just workplaces. The three initial goals are:

  1. To continue to make workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion;
  2. To implement and expand unconscious bias education; and
  3. To share best—and unsuccessful—practices

I am honored to represent Tanenbaum as a signatory on the CEO Action pledge and one of the few organizations of our ilk on the list. As the only secular, non-sectarian not-for-profit with more than two decades of experience helping multi-national companies create inclusive environments for employees of all faiths and none, Tanenbaum is uniquely positioned to offer better practices on this topic—including ones we’ve implemented in our own office. Click here to read about our Holiday Swapping policy, and here for other better practices from the global companies represented.

Religious diversity is part of the larger Diversity & Inclusion conversation, and I trust that Tanenbaum’s involvement in the pledge will inspire more companies to proactively address religious diversity in the workplace. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is poised to inspire lasting change in workplaces large and small. And how wonderful is that?

Let’s keep moving the needle toward equity, justice, and respect,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

The Affordable Care Act and Religion: Impact & Support

As Congress debates if and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many people have spoken out on how losing health coverage would affect various disenfranchised communities. Often missing from the conversation has been the relationship between the ACA and religion—and yet many religious communities either benefit directly from the ACA, and would be affected by losing health insurance, or have spoken out in support of the ACA based on their religious beliefs.

The ACA has been beneficial to pastors and other church employees who struggled to find health care coverage prior to the ACA. Christianity Today profiled how small churches often function similarly to small businesses, and face similar struggles around providing affordable health care to their employees. Many churches simply do not include health insurance as part of their compensation package, and small church pastors and other employees have therefore come to rely on insurance through the ACA. Many expressed concern over what they would do if the ACA were repealed.

Similarly, Sojourners has collected and published testimonials from Americans around the country about their experiences with the ACA, and many of the people expressing appreciation for the ACA were religious leaders and their families. These testimonials included ones by a Presbyterian minister who could not find insurance when he returned to the U.S. after nine years of overseas missionary work; the wife of a preacher whose church did not provide insurance coverage for their daughter’s pre-existing condition; and a pastor’s wife who no longer has to choose between buying groceries and going to the doctor. All of these individuals were positively impacted by being able to obtain insurance through the ACA.

There are also religious communities who support the ACA not only because it benefits themselves or their congregations, but because of their religious mission to care for people in need. The ACA has helped the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and legal non-citizens have greater access to health care than ever before. As a result, representatives from a wide array of religious traditions have spoken out in support of the ACA as a means of continuing to provide insurance to the poor.

A surprising source of support for the ACA has come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who last month sent a letter to Congress urging them not to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan. They wrote that “a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.” In the past the USCCB has been opposed to the ACA largely because it covers abortion and other reproductive health services and included a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraception. In spite of these earlier objections, the USCCB and other Catholic institutions recognized the importance of continuing to provide health insurance to Americans, particularly those without the resources to get this insurance through other channels.

As the debate over the ACA continues, it is important to remember that repealing the ACA without having a plan to replace it can have serious consequences both for religious communities themselves, and for the values around protecting those in need that are at the foundation of many religions’ missions.