Can there be true tolerance if some are excluded from the rainbow of diversity?
On January 16th America recognized Religious Freedom Day – as it has every year since 1993. Based on presidential proclamation, Americans were called upon to celebrate the anniversary of the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and "observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship."
Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom laid the foundation for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees Americans their deeply cherished freedoms of religious expression, speech, assembly, press, petition, association and belief – all monumental concepts of tolerance rarely seen in societies throughout the course of human history.
But more than 220 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, many Americans are questioning what religious freedom means today. Does it mean the freedom to freely exercise one’s religious faith in every arena of one’s life, or merely the freedom to freely worship within the confines of a church building?
Indeed, with more than 40 lawsuits by companies and religious employers currently wending their way through the courts at the state and federal levels over mandates found in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), many Americans feel that their precious religious freedom is under the greatest level of threat since the first settlers arrived seeking freedom from religious persecution in Europe.
For example, the owners of Hobby Lobby are being forced to choose between their deeply held religious beliefs or a $1.3 million daily fine for failure to pay for abortions and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan. No small player in the economic arena, Hobby Lobby is a family-owned chain that employs 13,000 Americans at more than 525 stores in 42 states.
Similarly, many American Christians are deeply troubled by the recent controversy over the White House’s awkward – but revealing – handling of its invitation to Evangelical pastor Louie Giglio to offer the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration. When it was revealed that Giglio believes in the traditional and biblical understanding of sexuality, marriage and family held by fully half of Americans, he was ironically pressured to withdraw on account of the Obama Administration’s stated commitment to the politically correct version of tolerance and diversity.
In the retail arena, the rapidly emerging and economically powerful group known as Faith Driven Consumers is collectively asking similar questions about religious liberty in America. As a subset of the broader Christian market that comprises 41 million Americans and spends $2 trillion annually, Faith Driven Consumers see an increasingly secular culture that marginalizes those who hold to biblical views and beliefs.
Here, Faith Driven Consumers see a business culture that on the one hand proclaims its commitment to niche markets and a wide embrace of tolerance and diversity, but on the other hand does little to include or welcome them as a viable and loyal market segment comprising seventeen percent of the U.S. adult population.
When it comes to corporate America, the intersection of tolerance, diversity and religious liberty beg two questions:
How can brands afford to not proactively embrace a segment of the population that is seeking to do business with companies that are compatible with historical and traditional American values and beliefs?
And, can there be true tolerance and a full embrace of diversity in a nation founded upon religious liberty when a large and economically powerful group like Faith Driven Consumers is not welcomed and included in the rainbow of diversity?