Putting a Number on Viewpoint Diversity
A new index grades 50 of the largest U.S. companies on their support for First Amendment rights.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has quantified for the first time something that has long been apparent: too many American companies restrict their employees’ freedoms of speech and religion.
The 2022 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, jointly conducted by ADF and Inspire Insight, a Christian financial analytics firm, ranked 50 of the largest U.S. companies according to whether their policies and actions supported or undermined Americans’ First Amendment rights. Out of a possible 100 points, these companies averaged what the authors described as an “abysmal” 12.
“We have to be concerned that consolidated power in the private sector is becoming a greater threat to free speech and religious freedom than government power,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “There’s a real risk that the social-credit-score approach will largely come to the United States through private corporations.”
Personal social-credit scores are becoming the norm in China, whereby the government regulates people’s ability to travel, use hotels, or access the internet based on their personal behavior. The government monitors what people buy, what they search, post, or share online, how they drive, and even how much time they spend playing video games.
In the U.S., by contrast, constitutional guarantees of personal liberties and privacy have prevented America’s government from emulating China’s, despite recent attempts to monitor Americans’ bank accounts and track their cell phones. While Congress and the courts have thwarted some of the Biden administration’s attempts to impose coercive mandates, private companies increasingly provide the leverage for progressives to “force behaviors,” as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink put it.
Financial institutions scored an average 11 out of 100 in the survey, which is particularly concerning, Tedesco said, “because banks and financial services have the ability to deny you access to your bank account, to loans, they have an incredible amount of power.” This power was demonstrated in Canada, when banks froze the personal accounts of truckers protesting Covid lockdowns last February.
A recent report by the Heritage Foundation cites instances like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo closing personal bank accounts of targeted conservatives, and PayPal closing the accounts of people who were flagged by the Southern Policy Law Center. WePay, a subsidiary of JPMorgan, canceled payment services to a conservative fundraising event in November, prompting Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick to inform the bank that his state “would not do business with them so long as they continued to discriminate against customers based on their mainstream political positions.”
“The reality is that there are lots of policies inside these banks that are pathways to censorship,” Tedesco said. “We want to highlight the fact that those policies exist, encourage the banks to remove those policies, and encourage them to adopt policies that affirmatively commit that they are going to provide viewpoint-neutral services.”
The companies rated in the Viewpoint Diversity Index were scored on three categories, namely, their treatment of customers and vendors, their treatment of employees, and the types of charitable or political causes to which they donate. For 2022, the index’s inaugural year, the survey focused on companies the authors considered to have the greatest potential to affect free speech and religious freedom: financial institutions, computer and software makers, internet services, retailing, and outsourcing services.
The best performers were Paychex and Truist Financial, while the worst were PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Adobe, Microsoft, Airbnb, and GoDaddy. One-third of the companies surveyed prohibited what they loosely defined as “hate speech.” In addition, 30 percent of those surveyed imposed “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) criteria on vendors and contractors. Almost two-thirds of the companies donated in support of “legislation or legal action to rollback protections for free speech and religious freedom.”
It’s not clear whether left-wing corporate activism will continue to spread, or whether CEOs will begin to grow wary of dragging their companies into political controversies. Activist asset managers like BlackRock continue to vote the shares they manage to arm-twist corporate executives into pursuing progressive policies. This week, activist financial managers are attempting to force Walmart, Lowe’s, and TJ Maxx to take a stand against abortion restrictions.
At the same time, Disney appears to have been stung by reactions to its outspoken support for sex education for kindergartners. Twitter could be taken over by Elon Musk, who has promised to prioritize free speech on the social-media platform. And, reacting to hemorrhaging subscribers, Netflix informed employees that it will choose content according to what the public wants, rather than the political views of its workers. Most companies have thus far chosen to remain silent about the possible Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Get daily emails in your inbox
Another recent survey, focusing exclusively on religious freedom, found that, although still a minority, 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies are beginning to recognize religious diversity as part of their DEI criteria. And Tedesco said that, despite the dismal rankings on the Viewpoint Diversity Index, there are reasons to be hopeful.
“We actually did see some great practices and policies that already displayed the kind of respect for religious and viewpoint diversity that we would expect to see across the board,” he said. “We have laid a roadmap for corporations to follow with model policies, recommended practices, and other things. If they just adopt these policies and abide by them, it can make a real difference overnight.”