Alright, let’s make this simple.
The simple answers are often the best. But there’s a problem with simplicity: it doesn’t give you room to grant a thousand exemptions, exceptions, and caveats to satisfy every lobby, satiate every interest group, heal every hurt feeling, and grease every squeaky wheel.
Simple is fair, simple is just, simple is consistent, but fewer and fewer people are interested in what is fair and just and consistent. That’s why our laws are so long and confusing and convoluted these days (see: Obamacare). Legislation is not written for the sake of justice; it’s written for the sake of pay-offs and power grabs.
Yesterday I wrote about the (now vetoed) Arizona religious freedom bill. I said that religious business owners — be they bakers or photographers or anything else — shouldn’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. They should have the right to choose who they provide services to, and how they provide those services.
Despite the expected influx of some of the most vile, violent, hate-filled (and super tolerant!) emails, Tweets, and Facebook messages I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, I still stand by every point I made in that post.
Now, instead of making this an argument about “gay rights” or “religious freedom,” I think it’s time to shift the discussion towards the broader concept of property rights, freedom of association, and free speech. That conversation got bogged down by people attempting to determine whether or not the photographer, the baker, the t-shirt maker, and the florist were “homophobic” or “bigoted.” But that isn’t the question. I don’t think they are bigots, but it doesn’t matter. Bigotry is not illegal. Hatred is not illegal. Racism is not illegal. These are spiritual crimes — problems of the heart. The government is not omniscient. It cannot possibly legislate our thoughts and emotions.
We will never be free as long as it keeps trying.
So, rather than concentrate on one particular reason why certain particular businesses might wish to refuse certain particular services, let’s simplify things.
Let’s put it this way:
Business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.
I realize that now, legally, that right has been stripped, and it erodes more every day. That’s why I’m saying they “should,” not that they “do.”
Business owners should have the right to run their businesses as they see fit.
The discussion about the cases that led to the Arizona bill — the photographer who wouldn’t photograph a gay wedding, the baker who wouldn’t bake a cake for a gay wedding, the t-shirt maker who wouldn’t print a shirt for a gay pride festival, etc — only further highlights the urgent need to reinforce the basic concept of individual liberty.
I’ve seen people confidently proclaiming that a man who bakes cakes “should bake cakes for all occasions.” A company that make shirts “should make shirts for everyone,” they insist. A florist “should provide flowers for any event,” they assert.
Conspicuously absent from these declarations is any explanation as to how or why they get to set rules for another person’s private business. Can they decide on the hours of operation? Do they get a vote on the inventory? Do they have a say on what colors the walls are painted?
Ah, but these are “public businesses,” I’m told. Public businesses ought to be open to the whole public.
Yes, but there is one problem: a public business would be a business run by the State. These are private businesses.
Let private businesses serve who they wish to serve, however they wish to serve them. If they aren’t doing harm to others, or cheating, or scamming, or stealing, there is no need for government involvement. Most importantly: there is nothing in the constitution giving the government the right to get involved.
This is the simple answer. This is the fair answer. This would negate any need for that Arizona law, or any like it.
Don’t worry, I’ve heard every outrageous hypothetical.
What if a business goes back to refusing to serve black people?
So what if they do? I find this extraordinarily unlikely, but it doesn’t scare me away from my steadfast support of private property rights, private business rights, and the rights to free association. Obviously I wouldn’t condone or approve of any company that would put a “no blacks allowed” sign out front, but it isn’t up to me to make that call. If a business owner is racist and suicidal — willing to sacrifice his business for the sake of living out his bigoted fantasies — so be it. The market will punish him. He’ll be closed by next Wednesday. Problem solved.
In fact, if there is a business owner out there so filled with bigotry and racism, wouldn’t you like to know? If your local grocery store is actually under the management of the Klan, isn’t this a fact you’d prefer they make public?
What if they decide they don’t want to serve you?
Fine then. They have every right. Or they should, at least.
But if you think business owners should be allowed to refuse service to anyone, does that mean you’re opposed to the Civil Rights Act?
Yes. Parts of it, anyway. To be clear: I am not opposed to civil rights — just certain facets of a piece of legislation dubbed “the Civil Rights Act.” I’m also very much in favor of using secure forms of transportation, yet I oppose that thing called “The Transportation Security Administration.”
It’s possible to be in favor of a concept while being against a law or government agency bearing its name.
Of course I fully support any and all civil rights laws that repealed, abolished, and prohibited government mandated discrimination and segregation. One forgets that under Jim Crow, discrimination wasn’t simply allowed — it was, in some circumstances, required.
All the government had to do to help the civil rights movement was end its practice of actively infringing upon civil rights. The rest was already being taken care of by private individuals.
The social movement — not any bureaucratic decree — is what heralded in the era of racial equality. The lunch counters at Woolworths weren’t desegregated by law; they were desegregated in 1960 when courageous young black Americans staged a sit-in. The Montgomery Bus Boycott marked the beginning of the end of segregation on busses, and that had nothing to do with any law or governmental initiative.
Society gave us civil rights. People. Private individuals. Marches. Protests. Sit-ins. Civil disobedience. The tide was turned by free people; the government simply rode the wave. And, in so doing, they caused more problems than they solved. As usual.
In fact, I really detest this modern practice of conflating the Civil Rights Act with the Civil Rights Movement. I know I will be the easy target for blaspheming a legislative Sacred Cow, but the people who give all the credit to the government are the ones desecrating the heroic deeds of our country’s civil rights pioneers.
We live now in a society that simply would not tolerate a business that attempted to institute truly racist and genuinely bigoted policies. But there are still a thousand other reasons — outside bigotry and hatred — why a business owner might wish to tailor his or her service towards a certain group. There are even more reasons why a company might wish to put rules in place dictating who they serve and in what context they provide that service.
If freedom of association and property rights are to mean anything at all, private enterprises have to retain the right to make those judgment calls.
The irony is impossible to overlook when gay rights activists use freedom of association to argue their cause, and then, three seconds later, insist that bakers should be legally forced to make desserts for gay weddings.
Listen, friends, if you have the freedom to associate with each other, a business owner has the freedom to decline an association with you.
The fact that he’s a business “open to the public” is irrelevant to the principle. You are people who also exist “in the public,” are you not? We are all “in the public” to one degree or another. But we get to decide how we interact with the public, and who in the public we will engage and not engage.
This is why I wish everyone would stop calling this a “democratic society.”
Politically, we are supposed to be a Constitutional Republic. Societally and culturally, we are neither a republic or a democracy.
If you have kids, your home (I would hope) is not a democracy. Junior doesn’t get a vote or an “equal say” in everything. Bedtime is bedtime. Dinner is dinner. Eat what we serve you. Do as I say.
Similarly, businesses are not democracies. In many cases, there is one person in charge. They delegate, they make decisions, they cut the checks. They may listen to opinions (hopefully) but they likely don’t weigh all opinions the same. They hire you. They fire you.
The government — with its phantom “democratic principles” — exercises too much authority in this area already. It’s outrageous that they also get to decide who your customers must be, and how you must serve them.
We have a choice: we can have the government continue to peer inside our hearts and souls and attempt to prohibit and punish what it interprets to be “discrimination” and “bigotry,” or we can be a free nation where private property, freedom of association, and private enterprise are all respected and protected. We can sacrifice control and power to the State in hopes that it will stamp out hatred and racism across the land, or we can battle these evils ourselves, as a free and vigilant people.
This is not a false dichotomy. This is truly the choice before us.
Personally, I’d prefer the latter.