Removal of 'religious' postpones Grand Rapids anti-discrimination code changes

Aug 19, 2015

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 Proposed language changes meant to make Grand Rapids city code more inclusive left some feeling excluded instead. 

The changes would repeal otherwise outdated portions of two city anti-discrimination policies. New language was introduced for both by the city’s Diversity and Inclusion Department this week.

Alex Thomas is with the department. He says it includes changing ‘handicapped’ to ‘disabled’ or ‘disability,’ swapping ‘gender orientation’ for ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ and updating various department titles.

“We also changed some language that went from, ‘racial, religious and nationality’ to be more inclusive of all groups by saying, ‘racially, ethnically and culturally diverse groups,'" he says.

Commissioners say the issue isn’t the addition of language; it’s what was removed. Specifically, the word 'religious.' 

“I would say that I would like to keep it in there," First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer says. "Because what I think we’re trying to do here, is to create a policy that is open for (any) differences.”

Thomas says 'culturally' by definition includes religious beliefs – and that’s meant to be more, and not less, inclusive. He adds that only applies to one article of city code. The word “religion” anywhere else remains unchanged.

But commissioners noted concerns – their own, and those of residents who, definition aside, may not see or perceive things the same way.

Further review was postponed until September, where revised language including 'religion' is expected.

A public hearing will likely follow later in the month.