Home Politics Opinion: No intent to discriminate? Yeah, right

Opinion: No intent to discriminate? Yeah, right

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A common theme seen among politicians these days is the idea that they “did not intend” to do something. They did not intend to offend, they did not intend to defame, they did not intend to break the rules, and most egregious; “the law is not intended to discriminate.”

It’s time to raise the red flag on these phoney claims from politicians and people in general.

Concerning the recent controversy surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Reformation Act (and the subsequent states that attempted to run similar legislation through their respective legislatures), there are plenty of misleading statements being issued about there being “no intent to discriminate,” as far as the legislation is concerned.

In reality, when a politician says something like this, the correlating or subsequent action or law is just that. Discriminatory.

During the initial fervor surrounding the law, Indiana Governor Mike Pence was quoted as saying,  “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.”

In reality, The Onion did just as bang-up a job as anyone in their coverage of the RFRA and Pence’s defense of “religious liberty.”

Now think hiring practices. An employer might not intend to discriminate when it decides consistently against hiring minority and historically disparaged groups of people, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t unconsciously discriminated.

Garrett Epps of the Atlantic raised a great point on the matter of the RFRA before lawmakers acknowledged that the law would be amended.

“I don’t question the religious sincerity of anyone involved in drafting and passing this law. But sincere and faithful people, when they feel the imprimatur of both the law and the Lord, can do very ugly things.”

Another interesting angle to look at the “intent” portion of law, could be through the scope of the legal theory “disparate impact.” This is less a matter of any one individual act of discrimination so much as it is looking broadly at an issue and seeing how some groups of people either experience positives or negatives to a noticeably disproportionate extent. That concept gets a pretty clear explanation from this Daily Signal piece.

Here’s an example from the National Fair Housing Alliance.

“A city decides to prohibit all housing that would be affordable to working-class people, and that has the effect of excluding most or all people of color in that region. If the city cannot show a valid reason for its policy, or if a more fair and effective alternative is available, then the policy would have to be set aside under the disparate impact approach.”

Another blatant example worth framing this “intent” topic is voting rights. Most people have a general idea or understanding that gerrymandering is a major issue where politicians not even so slyly fixate districts so as to consolidate unwanted parties voting bases to allow for the drawing up of more districts that would benefit the party in power. State legislatures like those in North Carolina and Ohio have passed voting laws that are supposedly meant to crack down on fraud, when in reality, minority voters are often discouraged from voting throughout history with things like the poll tax, voter ID, and the ending of a week of early voting and same-day registration.

In many cases, we are used to hearing politicians say that they did not intend to break the law (interesting for a large category of people whose backgrounds are often law or business).

Troy Kelley, the state auditor of Washington, recently found himself in hot water after getting indicted by a federal grand jury after allegedly keeping $2 million dollars from homeowners while trying to hide the money from the IRS. He dodged questions concerning his own responsibility by claiming “I did not break the law. I want to be clear here. I never ever thought I was breaking the law. I still do not to this day.”

So what can someone take from this? Policies can be written up that affect certain people more so than others. Sometimes specific “others” are targeted on purpose, and people are affected by such policies without it ever having been the intent. Finally, acknowledging that there is a relationship between intent and impact need be considered by politicians (and people in general) who might not understand the implications of policies or rules that they adhere to or promote.

I didn’t mean to! Well, it’s time to realize that even if you didn’t really mean to, you better find out why it is what you did was wrong.

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