Refusal to Serve - Is this a Right or is it Wrong?
The Baker's Dilemma
Henry Walther & Thomas
Photo: Kevork Djansezian , Getty Images News
America’s history in civil rights has been far from the best. We’ve come a long way in preventing discrimination and protecting targeted peoples. But are we in danger of overshooting ourselves? Recent legislation in states such as Arizona and North Carolina has sparked controversy over business’s rights to refuse service, such as a bakery refusing to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. There can be many issues picked out of the specific bills, but we will discuss the concept of refusal of service itself.
Have We Gone Too Far?
It is of course necessary for laws to uphold civil rights, but a line needs to be drawn. There is no doubt protection is needed, but if one class becomes overprotected it may be in danger of infringing the rights of another. By all means we should have equal rights, but does that mean a private business owner must be forced into serving everyone who comes through their door? Our country was founded on the values of individuality, where one person is free to live their life the way they believes is right, as long as it does not infringe the rights of another individual. This is where we have the dilemma.
The members of the LGBT community are humans. They deserve human rights. But the fact is there is a large group of people in America who have “sincere religious beliefs” that this community goes against what they believe. If a gay couple is refused a cake at a bakery for their wedding because the shop owner sincerely believes it is a violation of his faith to provide this service, he should be free to turn them away just as a man and woman couple is free to not buy a cake from a bakery run by a gay couple. Either couple can easily go to another shop. Private business owners should not have to break the law to do what they believe is right.
Not everyone agrees with the morals of the business owners who turn away gay customers. But everyone should agree with the values of America. Individuals should be free to run their private business how they think is right. Yes many believe it is wrong to turn away a customer if they are gay, but we can’t force every business to follow someone’s morals. As gay activist Andrew Sullivan describes it, it’s “fighting bigotry with bigotry...instead of suing them, talk to them. Try seeing things from their point of view. Appeal to their better nature as Christians.” Forcing business owners to violate their beliefs is not a solution. .
Gay Pride Rally after Obergefell v. Hodges
Photo: fearnloathin, instagram
With the above philosophy, there is of course the inherent question: where do we draw the line? Think about this: is it okay for an old fashioned shop owner to not serve interracial couples? Is it okay for a traditional Muslim to refuse to allow or serve alcohol on a plane if a customer asked for it? There has to be a threshold. The current status quo sets the cutoff if a business is registered as a religious organization. If a church doesn’t want to marry a gay couple, that is legal. They are a religious organization so their religious beliefs must be protected. But if someone's job is baking cakes or preparing pizza, their business and role in our economy is not based on any religious grounds. In private settings, people have the absolute 1st amendment right to practice their religion, but once someone enters the public sphere and uses their religion to discriminate against someone else, has it gone too far? It is already hard enough to live as a LGBT person in America.
30% of Gay people near the age of 15 attempt suicide. Allowing legal discrimination against an already disadvantaged group only prolongs and increases the current problems.
The Duality of Discrimination
Opposition to religious freedom laws branch far beyond the LGBT community or even the public, corporations and businesses have used their power too. Last year, after Georgia passed such legislation, Disney threatened to stop filming their movies in the Peach state which would lose the state money by the tune of billions. If you are sympathetic to the pro LGBT position, this is fantastic news.
If you fall on the other side of the debate, Disney’s stance can seem downright hypocritical. I mean, the whole original argument is that businesses shouldn’t use their religious beliefs and push them onto other people. But isn’t Disney doing that exact same thing? The only difference is they have a lack of religious beliefs as a company, so instead they use their power and influence to change legislation in a direction they see fair.
It is a business (Disney) pushing a belief (anti LGBT discrimination) upon a minority (people with deep religious beliefs).
On the flip side:
It is businesses (with deep religious beliefs) pushing a belief (pro religious freedom) upon a minority (LGBT community).
This can be boiled down to a simple question: at what point should individual freedoms be sacrificed in order to protect a minority? Everybody has a different line they draw, but that’s okay, that’s what makes civil discourse possible. This debate is all about perspective. And no debate can be had if there is not mutual understanding of the opposing side.