There has been much in the news recently about Arizona’s SB 1062, and about Gov. Jan Brewer vetoing it. I won’t go into the rationale behind the bill, the arguments for or against, or whether Gov. Brewer should or shouldn’t have vetoed it. But for those few people who 1) read this blog, and 2) have missed all the hubbub over SB 1062, it was a bill to amend a current Arizona law to give people an exemption from a state law if that law placed an undue burden on their free exercise of religion. The bill would have applied to restaurants and other businesses seen as public accommodations.
I’ve seen variations of the above image posted in many businesses, stating that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, a bit like the Soup Nazi yelling, “No soup for you!” if a customer cheesed him off. But there are some legal limitations imposed on the ability of a business owner to refuse service. Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that public accommodations cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
Recently, the issue of businesses refusing service has hit blogs as wells as news with a number of lawsuits brought by gays and lesbians who were denied wedding cakes, wedding photography, and gay pride t-shirts, because the owners of these businesses were deeply religious and did not want to participate in an event they found morally objectionable. The business owners in question were promptly sued, and the law said that the businesses had to serve all customers. They are now compelled by the state to work for people they would choose not to serve, if they had a choice. There’s a word for being compelled to work for someone against your will: slavery. Is that word too harsh for your sensitivities? Fine, how about “involuntary servitude?”
“But Captain, a business owner who denies service to someone because of race, color, religion, yadda-yadda, is a bigot!” You can view such a business owner as a bigot if that makes you feel better, but is it illegal to be a bigot? Is it illegal to hate someone with every fiber of your being? Is it illegal to view someone as inferior to you just because of that person’s race, color, religion, yadda-yadda? In each of these cases, I would answer that, while morally objectionable, such an act is not illegal because each one is a state of mind. If the state wants to step in and make certain thoughts illegal, it would need to be able to prove what I’m thinking. It would also have to be able to supply one hell of a good search warrant because I’m not going to allow the government to root around in my head. Even if they could find a judge stupid enough to sign such a search warrant, I would immediately assert my Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against myself.
But I digress.
There is a simpler solution: how about freedom? Rather than crafting more and more laws regulating how and who a business must serve, let’s go the other way. As Matt Walsh puts it, “Business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.” And I agree with him, but I know liberals won’t. Whenever liberals see something they do or don’t like, their first instinct is to cry out, “There oughtta be a law!” But that way lies a never-ending pile of rules, regulations, and laws telling people what they can and can’t do. It becomes impossible to wade through the morass of laws. That ain’t freedom. I prefer the freedom of allowing people to make their own choices. That means recognizing that a private business owner should have the right to choose to serve or not to serve people for any reason, or for no reason at all.
If a business owner chooses not to serve someone, that is a big flashing green light to the free market: here’s an opportunity to make money by providing goods or services to a target market that’s being underserved! The free market, when it’s not being screwed over by government meddling, tends to auto-correct.
“But Captain, what if some business owner chooses not to serve me?” Well, then, it’s his choice to be an asshat. If you disagree with his choice, the proper response is to exercise your freedom to find some other business. Then use your freedom of speech to let people know that you weren’t served because the owner is an asshat, and urge them to support non-asshat businesses. Problem solved. And there’s this to consider as well: do you really want the goods or services that you had to compel a business owner to provide? Do you worry about things like urine or Ex-Lax in your cake? What if your wedding photos came back with the heads cropped off, the images all poorly focused, or the photographs were all pictures of your guests’ butts? Do you want your event t-shirts to be crooked, smudged and misspelled? I sincerely hope that anyone who is willing to go on the record as being deeply religious would never act so small-minded, especially when it came to adulterating food — but human beings are imperfect, and when they’re being forced to do something they don’t want to do, they’re rarely on their best behavior. Do you want to take that chance with your special day?
“But Captain, what if an entire town discriminates against me?” This is an interesting question, especially in light of American history. I’m a member of an American minority religion. In the 19th century, an entire state was legally encouraged to discriminate against people like me — and when I say “discriminate,” what I mean is “kill.” Members of my faith had sunk money and time into the land they’d bought, but in the end, they chose to leave it behind because they were being persecuted by their bigoted neighbors. If you should find yourself in circumstances where an entire town hates you and refuses to serve you, your best course of action is to pack up and go somewhere that’s hospitable enough to support and serve you. If you’re too pig-headed to move, your other option is to broadcast your situation to the nation. In this day of cell phones, Facebook, and YouTube, that’s not a hard task at all.
“But Captain, if we grant business owners the freedom to be asshats, we’ll see a return to segregated drinking fountains and lunch counters. Look at this photo of a sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi. Look at it!” Really? Do you honestly think America would return to the openly racist attitudes of the 1950s and ’60s in 2014? Sorry, it’s not going to happen. To think otherwise is to believe that there has been no change in American attitudes in the past sixty years.
For argument’s sake, let’s imagine that the events of this 1963 sit-in were somehow to be replicated at some Denny’s next week. But instead of a professor and two of his students, let’s imagine there are three Muslim imams being covered in ham, bacon, and pork gravy. Want to guess the amount of time that would pass between the first Moons Over My Hammy plate flying through the air, and the first tweet or post about it on YouTube? I’m guessing it would be a matter of seconds. And the social and economic backlash to that particular Denny’s, the entire restaurant chain, and the town in which the incident took place would inevitably follow. Not a single arrest or lawsuit would be necessary since images of each participant would shortly be online, and the public shaming would begin. Free people and market forces will socially police bigotry far better than the heavy hand of government ever could.
“But Captain, I want these people to respect me for who I am!” That’s tough. You cannot get people’s respect through the force of law. At best you may legislate the enforcement of tolerance, but you may also provoke silent loathing because of the law’s heavy hand over their business.
“But Captain, what about a monopoly? If that’s the only business, I can’t go elsewhere or use a competitor.” In the U.S., the only way a company may become a monopoly is due to government meddling. And in that case, the company isn’t private any more, but has achieved quasi-governmental status. As part of the government, it cannot discriminate. The U.S. Postal Service is a government-mandated monopoly, and as such, it is not allowed to discriminate against its customers for any reason.
People should be free to do business or not with others as they choose. Instead of government stepping in and telling people how to run their own businesses, we should allow people to make their own choices and live with their associated consequences. When given the choice between a bloated government and a free people, how about choosing freedom?