Religious Right to Discriminate–One More Time

Apparently, the right of religious folks to discriminate based upon their sincere beliefs is the issue du jour. 

Yesterday’s post centered upon a subset of that debate, but the broader question is the one posed by an Arizona law currently awaiting Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. That measure–which has most of the state’s business community demanding a veto–would allow shop owners and merchants to refuse service to people to whom they have some sort of religious objection.

Observers have assumed that the law is intended to target the GLBT community, but as written, it protects a merchant’s right to refuse service to anyone, so long as the proprietor can claim a “sincere” religious belief as motivation.

It boils down to a fairly simple question. Does government violate a fundamental liberty by forcing a devout person to do business with people he believes to be sinful?

As the saying goes, this debate is deja vu all over again.

This is the same argument that erupted when Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Opponents argued that being forced to hire or do business with women or people of color violated their liberty to choose their associates. And they were correct; it did limit their liberty. Of course, in a civilized society, our liberties are constrained in all sorts of ways; I don’t have the liberty to take your property, or play loud music next to your house at 2:00 a.m., or drive my car 100 miles per hour down a city street. Etc.

Here’s the deal: The guy who opens a bakery– or a shoe store or a bank or any other business– relies on an implied social contract. He expects police and fire departments to protect his store, and local government to maintain the streets that enable people to get there–and he expects government to provide those and numerous other services to all citizens, not just white citizens or male citizens or Christian citizens. In return for financing the government that provides those services, We the People expect those who are “open for business” to provide cakes or shoes or loans to anyone willing to pay for them.

Opening a business implies a “come one, come all” invitation to the general public. (For purely practical reasons, people who don’t want to issue that invitation probably shouldn’t open a business.)

Bottom line: If you don’t approve of gay people, or African-Americans or Jews, or whoever–don’t invite them over for dinner. I’ll fight for your right to entertain only the people you like. I’ll fight for your right to exclude “sinners” from your church, your private club and your living room.

Your hardware store, not so much.


  1. Sheila, your blog site again deleted my comments. It appeared to begin uploading the post then a blank page popped up. I chcked the site and my comments didn’t appear. A few days ago ths same thing happened except I received an error page rather than blank; when I checked, my comment had been posted. Is this a problem with AOL?

  2. Yes JoAnn, AOL is the problem. It’s just not stable even after 20 yrs on the net! Sorry for you. Try Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers instead.

    Barry Goldwater’s granddaughter posted a column in today’s Huffington Post:

    “My grandfather was one of the first politicians to support gays serving openly in the military, and was known for being pro-choice and pro-immigration.

    The current crop of Arizona Republicans has forgotten his policies and replaced them with the policies of divide and conquer.”

  3. I wonder if any of these loosely labeled “Christians” realize that their proposal would make it legal for a shop owner to refuse to do business with them if the owner sincerely believes Christianity requires helping the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc. and he objects to how these “Christians” support policies that keep the poor in poverty, cut food stamps, increase the use of solitary confinement in prisons, and so on.

  4. Three thoughts come to mind. First, it was eating with sinners that outraged religious leaders against Jesus himself. Second, outside of the 10 or so cities that have municipal civil rights ordinances that protect against anti-LGB(and maybe T) discrimination, it’s perfectly legal in Indiana to deny service to gay people and you don’t even have to claim a sincere religious belief. What makes Arizona’s law so outrageous is its attempt to package discrimination as religious freedom and to put no limits on it. And third, the implied social contract itself is under attack in this country.

  5. “It boils down to a fairly simple question. Does government violate a fundamental liberty by forcing a devout person to do business with people he believes to be sinful?”

    Of course, that’s not the question.

    The question is rather: Can the government force someone to commit a sinful act and use the power of the government to force someone to violate their First Amendment right to religious freedom merely by virtue of operating as a business?

    A printer can refuse to print flyers for strip clubs and escort services, but if a gay client wants flyers and leaflets printed depicting graphic gay porn, that business owner is under severe attack from the gay mafia if he doesn’t accept the job.

    A baker can refuse to create a lewd cake for a stag party, but if he refuses to create a cake for a gay wedding, the gay mafia will attack him.

    For both the baker and the printer, assisting in the sinful act is seen as committing the sinful act. Can the government intrude upon religious freedom and force people to violate their religious canons?

  6. I let my ACLU membership drop precisely because the organization has moved away from the right side of issues. Instead of standing up for business owners in a clear application of defending civil liberties, it’s supporting state-mandated religious persecution and violating all rights to consensual conduct.

  7. I have a vague recollection of a similar circumstance in England about 40 years ago.

    A merchant (licensed by the local authority to sell goods to the general public) decided he would not purvey to specific groups of people. (Pakistani, if I remember correctly.)

    After the litigation “gun smoke” cleared, it was determined that if you have a premises specifically for selling and advertising (via the shop window) retail goods at a given price, you could not segregate and refuse to sell to any prospective buyer who walked into the store. I.e., advertising for sale with a price tag attached to all who look in the window, negates the act of refusal.

    Not sure how the US Legal System who view the above paragraph.

    The only way I see around this is to claim public safety as the excuse for not selling. Similar to a Bartender refusing a customer additional alcoholic drinks because he/she is severely intoxicated.

    Perhaps the next ploy will be to list the groups who will not be served on the price tag itself. Last time I checked, all money was still green and why would anybody in his or her right mind refuse revenue.

  8. George:

    Your third paragraph is the correct rule of law, and this is all Arizona seeks to codify. By selling a product on display at the tag price, absent further information, a merchant does not enter into, assist or further a sinful act. Decorating a gay marriage cake, photographing a gay wedding, or printing gay literature does require the merchant to assist and further a sinful act.

  9. Makes me scared to wonder how many of these discriminatory people would support going back to Jim Crow laws if given the chance. I had naively thought we had moved past those days, or at least moved past the worst. I think we have gotten to the point that we have forgotten why certain laws were put into place.

    @ Pancho —There is a huge distinction between not providing a service to everyone versus not providing a service to a subset of a group that is otherwise provided as a service. A bakery does not have to provide a lewd cake if they don’t provide that service to everyone, businesses are still allowed to have standards, as long as those standards are applied equally to everyone. The distinction is that if a bakery normally sells a particular cake, and they refuse to sell that particular cake because the customer is gay, or if the customer is African-American, and they would sell that exact same cake to a customer that is white no-gay customer, that is the distinction that is in place.

    To broaden the example, a hardware store does not have to sell a cake to a customer, even if the customer wants the hardware store to provide them a cake, if the hardware store doesn’t normally provide cakes to customers. However, if the hardware store sells hammers, but refuses to sell a hammer to a customer because the customer is gay, but otherwise sells hammers to non-gay customers, that is discrimination. So no, bakeries don’t have to sell lewd cakes if applied equally to all customers, and hardware stores don’t have to sell cakes if applied equally to all customers.

    I can’t help but think that people know better if they stop and think about the differences between not providing a service at all versus not providing a service to a subset of customers.

  10. @All: You can readily see what a ring, or a circle, and a complete farce the AZ bill really is. In TN the same bill was SB2566. Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) proposed this hot potato, thinking everybody MUST SURELY think as he does. He was hammered when he began to see that not everybody does think that way, and he handed it off to another (think re-election here). The bill did not make it.

    Bill and Paula hit it right on the head: It’s discrimination packaged as religious freedom, and it’s a crock!

    As I commented to a reporter with the Nashville Tennessean newspaper who had done a story on SB2566, it’s a very short trip for the bigot businessman over to the sign maker’s shop (being sure that the sign maker thinks this way, too, of course) to get those signs ready for the shop window. He could save expenses by using the back of a sign that once said “No Blacks” or “No Irish” or “No Jews” or “No Hispanics” or “No Muslims” or any other culture, religious or ethnic group he just plain doesn’t like.

    I think we’ve all noticed how corporate interests (really big ones) all the way up to and including the Super Bowl for 2015, are re-thinking and backing away from Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) and the whole notion of discrimination against the LGBT community as it could possibly exist in Arizona. It’s a beautiful state, but there is some really ugly stuff under those rocks!

  11. Therefore, as a Baker, if I have a portfolio of standard cake designs that I make and offer for sale. I can refuse to produce and sell a cake that is not a standard design. However, at this juncture, I’m refusing every prospective client that wants a custom cake. If, on the other hand, I advertise standard design cakes and the ability to craft a custom design cake to the client’s specifications. I no longer have a reason for refusal, as I would legally be accepting any design to order etc. As long as said design does not cross the line into the boundary’s of pornography. I see nothing wrong with a wedding cake that has, either two men or two women on it or, for that matter a photograph of the happy couple either.

    Perhaps, I should keep a safe distance from the Bible, if I spontaneously combust, I’d truly be the “Light of Christ”.

  12. The bakery situation seems so clear. If a baker could refuse a standard design to gays because he/she has something against gay marriage, why not do an interview to find out if he/she approves of any marriage? Don’t like the girl? Her hair color doesn’t go with her dress? The guy has too many tatoos? They have lousy jobs that don’t allow for a decent standard of living? Oops. No cake. Imagine the sign, “Wedding cakes, if I like you”. Sounds crazy, but it’s all the same.

  13. Here’s an additional thought concerning “that bill” in Arizona: When Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head by a right-wing extremist while she spoke on the corner at a Safeway, the person who came to her aid and absolutely saved her life that day is Daniel Hernandez, who is Hispanic and gay. Exclude him from service anywhere in AZ? Really? The bigot would need a bigger sign in order to exclude the Hispanic and gay Daniel Hernandez. I think we all salute Congresswoman Giffords in her amazing fight for recovery from a madman’s bullet. And we certainly salute Daniel Hernandez for his heroism on that sad day when 13 people were injured and one child died.

  14. Hey Pancho, How are you going to know they are gay? Are you going to ask them?
    Then what? Hope the person isn’t packing heat?


  15. The obvious question will be asked …

    Is that a gun in your pant’s or are you pleased to see me!

  16. “A bakery does not have to provide a lewd cake if they don’t provide that service to everyone, businesses are still allowed to have standards, as long as those standards are applied equally to everyone.”

    Decorating a wedding cake “Best wishes, Bill & Sally” is honest to goodness, while forcing the baker to write “Best Wishes, Bill & Jim” and put to two male figurines atop it would be to force him to commit a sinful act.

    If a gay couple stopped in for a few eclairs, I agree that the baker wouldn’t have much grounds for refusing that business.

    The Talmud speaks to aiding others in a sinful act, but I don’t want to speak for that religion. Certainly, there must be a Rabbi or a male Jew of sufficient years around here who could provide us with Talmudic instruction.

    Whatever happened to respecting other cultures? I love a Kosher deli, but I never demand that they put swiss on my pastrami.

  17. Sheila,
    Thank you for allowing us to vent our spleens on and on about this incredibly sensitive issue! Obviously, we needed to speak our minds!

  18. Betty,

    An activist and extremist Democrat shot Congresswoman Giffords. Jared Loughner was a regular poster to DailyKos and was a huge Pelosi fan.

  19. If it was a private reception, I’d be up for the Lewd Cake.

    I don’t think the Talmud has instruction on serving (The Full Monty) Wedding cake
    as opposed to a couple of eclairs (a quick fob-off, to get them out of the shop)

    Would you care to elaborate on “a male Jew of sufficient years” etc.

  20. All that business about being “forced to sin” is such hypocritical nonsense. Any theologian, including Jesus, will tell you that just being alive you are likely to sin. And then one strains at the gnat (“No writing Bill and Jim”), while swallowing the whole camel (being mean-spirited, judgmental and hateful about the whole thing, showing the world you are a nasty insensitive person to people). They need to get a life and understand what religion is really about, and it’s not about slicing your life into some weird legalistic dualism.

  21. The one great cardinal sin – forcing our personal religious belief’s on others.

    Jesus does not force religion on us, he invites us to participate. Religious belief
    is a deep personal experience. It’s about tolerance of all others around us, it’s
    about living and allowing others to live. It’s about treating others as we expect
    to be treated ourselves.

    Do I need to go on ?

  22. Gay Mafia? Please please PLEASE tell me where I can sign up for this “Gay Mafia” you speak of. If you are referring to homosexual people wanting the same exact rights as every other human being in this country, then by all means refer to us as a “Gay Mafia”.

    Discrimination is a sin too. I believe the term is something like “Do unto others as you would do unto yourself”. Try worrying less about sin and more about human compassion. Your “Religious Freedoms” end where my humanist beliefs begin. Writing “Congratulations Bill and Steve” on a cake is a sin? That is a flawed belief system.

  23. @Red George: Nice one and very well said! It’s long past time to find ways to bring us all together rather than slicing and dicing ourselves out of personal convenience.

  24. Please don’t remind me about Gabby getting shot at that strip mall. It’s haunting. I’ll never forget Dr. Tiller getting assassinated in his CHURCH doorway by another mad man.

    What these folks in AZ forget (because they all came from somewhere else) is that the browner skins were here first (hispanic) and the white man drove them out or tried to kill them. Just like the gays now.

    “Let’s pick on THOSE people. They aren’t LIKE us. They are the OTHERS. Run them off. Make them go away.”

    Really? Just stop it. They are humans and this is all just crazy talk! Grow up and remember how this country was founded. Some of the most brilliant men alive at the time and they had no idea that hatred would rule in 2014.

  25. A federal judge on Wednesday struck down Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage, declaring that it “demeans the dignity” of same-sex couples “for no legitimate reason.” Thank you US district judge Orlando Garcia. Garcia said that the Texas ban “conflicts with the United States constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.”

    “Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” so said Gov. Rick Perry.
    It would have probably been the “will of the people” throughout the South in 1960’s to deny Black people equal rights, and voting rights too.

  26. Pancho, please provide citations supporting your contentions that Jared Loughner was “(a)n activist and extremist Democrat”. This is a common tactic by the right, to blame gun massacres on those espousing liberal views.

  27. After reading all of today’s posts, I’m thinking of pulling one of my old Eric Hoffer books off the shelf and rereading it. Maybe I’ll select ‘The True Believer’…

  28. Who cares whether a mad man was right or left or dropped on his head as a child, our mental health care in this country was destroyed with Reagan and we’re paying the price; STILL.

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