Monday, April 6, 2015

I'd like to clear up a misunderstanding.

I've noticed that a lot of people defending 'religious freedom' bills characterize their aim as non-discriminatory, but rather a protection of businesses against discrimination. The idea being that  entrepreneurs should be free to run a business in a way that reflects their morals and beliefs, and that government and society at large has no right to trample their individuality by forcing them to serve customers who have made lifestyle choices that they take issue with.

This is a fundamentally flawed perspective of the situation.

You are free to run a business that reflects your ideals and values. No one can force a vegan restaurant to serve meat, or a steakhouse to add vegetarian options. A halal butcher is not required to stock bacon for those who want it. Christian restauranteurs can put bible verses on their food and conduct their business as they see fit.

These freedoms have never been under threat. Small business owners who wish to specialize in such a way as to appeal to a specific clientele are not being persecuted. There is no threat to religious freedom in business practice that it is in any need of protection from.

But, what about florists and bakers and pizza makers who see homosexuality as a sin and can't conscience supporting a lifestyle they see as sinful with their business? Why should they be forced to do something they believe is sinful?

The problem here is that people are seeing customers as a group of individuals, and 'the public' as the ocean they swim in. Operating from this perspective, a business should be able to cast their net to catch only the fish that suit them and throw back the ones they can't eat, right? There's always another fisherman who will take them, right?

But this is not what it means to be 'open to the public.'

The public is not the set from which your customers come. It is every customer, all the time, as though all people engaging in public life were a single, simultaneous entity. The public is black, white, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Married, Single, Divorced, Male, Female, Neuter, and every point on the LBGTQ spectrum all of the time, all at the same time. Thus, setting up a business where you say, we will not serve gays, or Muslims, or blacks etc. is like hanging a sign that says "No left hands will be served. Tonsils not welcome." It is nonsensical and stupid.

As a business, when you open your doors to The Public, you must be prepared to accept the public in every one of its states of being, but you are not required to tolerate all modes of behavior. When you look at the acceptable circumstances for refusing service, there is only once case where it is acceptable to refuse the public service because of who they are, rather than what they are doing, and that is because they are underage.

In all other cases -drunk customers, belligerent customers, smoking customers, naked customers, shoplifting customers, etc.- the public is being being refused service because of what it is doing, is still welcome in all instances where it is not doing those things.

If you wish to discriminate -and let's be clear, that is exactly what you're doing when you decide a particular part of the public is not welcome at your business- there is no reason to pretend that you are open to the public. The law in fact provides protection for just such a model. But to do so you cannot pretend that you are open to the public.

The Boy Scouts of America are able to refuse women, and homosexual members precisely because they are not open to the public. They are a private club with limited membership, and as such, they do get to pick and choose what individuals the provide their services to.

If you want to sell your pizzas only to people you think Jesus would approve of, that's fine. But you'd best be honest about it and have prospective customers sign a membership application with their delivery order, and you'd best have your organizational licensing configured appropriately.

And if that seems ridiculous to you, that's probably because it is.

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