THE ISSUE: A House bill stands apart from incessant efforts to protect an Alabama majority that needs no protection. The bill acknowledges all state employees, regardless of religion, race or gender, deserve to be free of discrimination.
The Statehouse may have shuddered a bit when Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, filed House Bill 657.
Unlike bills filed by many of his colleagues this session, Ball’s bill does not treat Christians in Alabama as an oppressed minority. Indeed, it recognizes that all people deserve to be treated in accordance with their merit, not based on their appearance or beliefs.
HB657 prohibits state employers from discriminating against any person on the basis of any characteristic — including race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or age — “that is unrelated to his or her work performance.”
The preamble to the bill is a powerful reminder of sentiments most Alabamians hold dear, but that tend to be lost in legislative attempts to pander to the worst impulses of their constituents.
“The Legislature acknowledges that Alabama is a diverse state with people of many different faiths, races, ages, interests, and passions,” the bill reads. “The beliefs of the state’s citizens are strong and sincerely held, and the Legislature celebrates those beliefs, in particular the very deeply felt religious convictions of many of our people.”
Implicit in the bill is a recognition that state employees who are white, who are Christian, or who otherwise fit comfortably into the demographic majority of the state and of their employers are unlikely to be the targets of discrimination. The problems are more likely to arise for those state employees who fall outside the Alabama mainstream.
Ball’s proposed legislation appeals to the best impulses of Alabamians, and of his fellow legislators.
“The state and its residents are also a kind people, with a deep sense of fairness and justice,” the bill continues.
“It is this sense of justice that requires the acknowledgement that, while there are many beliefs and practices that we may, as individuals, disagree with, it is nevertheless improper to use those beliefs as grounds for discriminating against others in public employment when our differences are unrelated to employment or a person’s ability to perform job-related tasks.”
The bill goes a step further by authorizing the state Personnel Department to adopt rules implementing the law. This separation between the Legislature — which reflects the same demographics as the population — and the rule-making agency increases the likelihood that all people, not just those whose appearance and beliefs are consistent with the majority, will enjoy the promised protections.
Alabama is increasingly viewed by the rest of the nation as a state in which the white, Christian majority runs roughshod over the rights of the underrepresented minority. Ball deserves credit for pushing back against the unfortunate trend.