Your Business Is Not a Church

So as most of my readers are probably aware, Indiana has passed a “religious freedom” bill. One of the effects of this bill is that it strengthens the legal right of Indiana business owners to discriminate against gay people. This legal right was already in place, as Indiana does not have a private sector anti-discrimination law applying to sexual orientation. While liberals are often accused of promoting “victimology,” racists, sexists, and homophobes frequently wallow in victimization rhetoric. The latest class of alleged victims on the Right are business owners who refuse to provide equal service to LGBT customers. I talked about this in a blog post last year, but I wanted to review the reasons why these business owners are not being victimized in any way. A business, such as a bakery, is not a church. The owner may be devoutly religious, but the business is still not a church. A church should not legally be forced to marry a gay couple, but a business cannot be permitted to skirt anti-discrimination laws (which need to be extended nationwide to LGBT people) because these laws conflict with what the owner heard from their minister, priest, rabbi, imam, etc. Otherwise, an Islamic Fundamentalist business owner could refuse to bake cakes for Christians’ weddings. A white supremacist Protestant Fundamentalist could refuse to take photographs for an interracial couple’s wedding. Interestingly, there is a documented case in our country’s legal history of a restaurant owner trying to use religious beliefs to justify racial discrimination. In the 1960s, a Southern barbecue restaurant owner named Maurice Bessinger tried to sue for the right to refuse service to black customers on religious grounds. (Bessinger also believed that slavery was divinely ordained.)  Thankfully, he lost the case, due to the fact that Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc. was not a house of worship.

There are some people who are very hardcore libertarians who believe that the actions of the business owners described in these scenarios should be legal. I disagree with this view, and it’s one of the things that makes me a moderate libertarian or “liberaltarian.” But the very hardcore libertarians are consistent. They don’t believe the government has the right to prohibit same-sex marriage or adoption, and in fact, the Libertarian Party was in support of marriage equality when it was still a minority view in the Democratic Party. However, most of the politicians and pundits championing these “right to discriminate” laws are not hardcore libertarians. They are the people who have never had a problem with using big government to discriminate against gays and have turned to using libertarian rhetoric more and more often as the pendulum has swung against them.

Another fact that is important recognize is that all businesses receive some sort of government aid in the sense that if the business is robbed, police intervene, and if the business catches on fire, firefighters intervene. Some of these police and firefighters are LGBT, and LGBT Americans pay taxes for police and fire departments. This means, in effect, that people such as Mike Pence, are asking LGBT people to aid in the protection of businesses that deny them equal service. Perhaps homophobic business owners would like to rely exclusively on their own security teams for dealing with fires and robberies.

One bit of good news is that these bills are only passing in very conservative states, and even then, they often fail to pass. Even in my home state of Georgia, which, once you venture outside of Atlanta, is about as far from a haven of acceptance for gay people as you can get, a “right to discriminate” bill is teetering on the brink of defeat. Another bit of good news is that soon, it will be illegal nationwide for businesses to discriminate against gay people. The tide has turned, and no amount of crying from bigots is going to change that.

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