Conflicting rights

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was young, signs like this were in every establishment. They often applied to me and my friends, as “hippies” were not always a widely accepted group. I suspect they were used to enforce a variety of personal prejudices, but to me they meant “We would rather avoid an argument than accept your business”.

Even Jack Nicholson didn’t get what he wanted.

There is a bill in Arizona, passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, that reminds me of why I love Arizona. Arizona is America’s crazy uncle, the one who gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner because he’s part of the family, but we keep him away from the dinner conversation. We love him, but his ideas are just a little edgy.

The bill provides the right to refuse service if such service violates one’s religious beliefs. It has been interpreted by some as legalizing discrimination, and by others as protecting business owners against discrimination.

Personally, I’m of mixed feelings. It’s not a complicated bill (read it again, it’s only two pages), it’s just a complicated application. If you refuse service to someone based on your religious beliefs, that person cannot sue you for discriminating against them. Well, they can, you just have a codified defense.

The conflict itself is multi-layered. It is framed as a gay rights issue, so I will address it in that context. A business owner (in this case a bakery) refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. The owner stated she believed that gay marriage is a sin, and that baking a cake for the wedding would be supporting a sin. The couple decided that instead of going to another baker they would go to the newspaper. Another baker provided a cake for free and the bad press put the original bakery out of business. Free market forces win, but the story doesn’t end there.

Several other similar cases have occurred around the country, with bakers and wedding photographers taking a beating because they placed their beliefs before profits. That should be their right. I say that from a religious, economic, and social point of view. The state should not be capable of forcing you to do business with anyone.

Simply going to another provider is not sufficient for some people, and they bring suit against the business. This has happened in Connecticut, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico in the last few months, so Arizona decided to pass a statute that would protect business owners from such legal action.

Unlike other groups that are discriminated against, gay people are not always obviously gay people. Unless they’re getting married, and the absence of a member of the opposite sex in the couple is obvious. It is unlikely that the same gay couple in Arizona would have been denied the opportunity to purchase cupcakes from the baker, and if they had ordered a wedding cake without a same sex couple atop no one would have noticed, so the issues that have brought about this bill stem directly from gay marriage.

So in some ways this takes the issue from “Do you accept gay marriage?” to “Do you promote gay marriage?”. The arguments from both sides that are surfacing are reflecting the “Not in my backyard” or NIMBY emotions of many otherwise “liberal” people. It turns out everyone doesn’t feel the same way about this, or there may be shades between the black and white positions that have been staked out. The bill is designed to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs, it does not single out a single religion or reason for being denied service. It could apply to anyone, at anytime. Without this bill it would be possible to sue a Halal butcher because he would not provide a roast pig.

What bothers me in all this is the divisiveness it accentuates. For one thing, the baker in question happened to be Christian. If there’s anyone who thinks Christians are more opposed to homosexuality than Muslims, or any other religions, please remove your head from the sand. The situation has been the exclusive realm for Christian bashers anyway, with headlines like “Would Jesus bake a gay wedding cake?”. The answer is an obvious NO, Jesus was a fisherman, not a baker. Please stop trying to define a religion you have rejected.

A person’s right to their sexual orientation does not override another person’s right to practice their religion. And vice versa. Just because photographer “A” won’t take pictures at your wedding doesn’t mean you can’t get married, or that no one else will take the gig. You have a right to be married, photographed, and served cake, just not by the individual of your choice. They have the right to say “No thank you”, you shouldn’t be able to sue them.

In this world, we make choices. If someone wishes to alienate a segment of the population (and their supporters), taking the gamble they will make up the lost business with like minded people, they should be able to do so. This is what capitalism is all about, doing what you believe in, not simply selling your soul for profits. That’s the edgy part about our crazy uncle’s ideas. They make a certain amount of sense to all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 comments on “Conflicting rights

  1. Alice Sanders says:

    Arizona decided to pass a statute that would protect business owners from such legal action, so I hope if Jan Brewer hasn’t already signed it, she will do so!

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  2. mike r says:

    The right to associate with whom I wish is the bedrock of liberty. Any government that forces association or prohibits it is tyrannical. It is an ignorant people who do not understand this and the US has become a population of such people. They likewise deserve the consequences of their greed, hatred, and envy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mike r says:

    The issue of gays and wedding cakes has to do with one group desiring to use the violent force of government to force its mores upon others who do not agree. This is the reality of all politics.

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  4. Eric says:

    Thanks for the post.

    My family has owned a small business for about 10 years and we get a very diverse set of people, just like a bakery, so your post made me do some reflection. My intent here is not to call you a “fool” or “ignorant,” it’s just my interpretation.

    By opening up an establishment that serves the public you commit to serving the entire public. The exception being those who are disruptive, unruly, or present an eminent danger or threat to you or your customers. Your personal politics is irrelevant, not because your goal is to make money, but rather because you have no grounds to restrict service to the general public based on their physical or social characteristics.

    So yes, I understand that the bill really boils down to protecting businesses from being sued, but that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I embrace it. In my opinion, you should face the possibility of serious legal consequence if you attempt to restrict service to anyone beyond the exception I laid out above. I don’t care what the religion or race/ethnicity of the owner is.

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    • kblakecash says:

      You speak in the language of “should”.

      If we were all good people laws would not exist. Yes, when you open a business you commit to serving the public, the entire public, but that is not true of everyone. Some people take their beliefs seriously. They are people first, business people second.

      It is best when we take these issues out of context. The context of this bill is gay rights vs religious rights, and in America religious rights are so taken for granted they are often overlooked. This was not an issue of businesses posting signs which read “No Gays Allowed”, it was a case of participating in gay marriages, which is why I used the example of the Halal butcher.

      There remain businesses that openly post signs of discrimination. For some time it was popular (even considered patriotic) to discriminate against anyone who even appeared to be from the middle East, and remnants of those sentiments remain today. Depending on your orientation, it is acceptable to deny service to Democrats, Republicans, Straight people (ever have anyone assault you, calling you a “breeder”?), people with tattoos, and people who overtly express their religion (Christian, Jewish, or other).

      I find it amusing that in a country where people have vilified business as “heartless” for over a century, the idea that business should come before personal beliefs can even be vocalized.

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      • Eric says:

        I’m speaking in terms of “should” because I don’t entirely know the law. In my limited understanding of the law I figure business would have to follow the rules I laid out.

        I see your example of the Halal butcher, and while I agree with the fact that the law is now open to a very broad interpretation, I don’t think this example fits the bill. I would imagine a Halal butcher wouldn’t even carry pork in their shop and would probably have some sort of visible indication that they are a Halal shop. If not, that wouldn’t matter much, because it is within his/her right to not carry a certain product, even if it is a broad based store.

        Put differently, refusing to provide/sell/make something that you have in the shop and can immediately provide because of someone else’s beliefs or appearance is fundamentally different than a shop not carrying a product because they don’t like it and/or don’t believe in it.

        Also, just to conclude, I wouldn’t characterize the issue at hand as business/profits vs. personal beliefs, as much as providing a public service vs. personal beliefs. Again, if you decide to provide a service to the general public I feel that trumps your personal beliefs within that context. Of course there are exceptions if a customer is violent/unruly.

        Ultimately, this is a philosophical issue and there’s no definitive right/wrong answer. You have a point, and I totally see it and am not disregarding it. I just feel otherwise 🙂

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        • kblakecash says:

          Consider that “public service” is voluntary and self defined.

          If I choose to provide public service by joining the military, I am required to follow their rules. If I choose to provide public service by rebuilding homes after a hurricane I make my own rules. Those are just two shades of the spectrum.

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