Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gay Rights and Religious Freedom

The state of Arizona (with its Senate Bill 1062: Denial of Service to Gays on the grounds of religious beliefs) presents us with an interesting problem.  Who has rights and who does not?  The issue argues the rights of gays to be served anywhere in public vs. the rights of business owners to refuse to sell to gays (because of religious freedom).

Let me begin by suggesting that no Christian religion worthy of the name discriminates against gays.  Jesus would not have approved.  The Old Testament, maybe.  But Jesus, never.  But that is just my opinion (we both read the same Book; we are just pointing to different passages in the same Book).

Let me now declare that it is my right to love or hate whom I choose and it is your right to do the same.  I am not suggesting that hate is a GOOD thing, merely that it is a constitutionally protected RIGHT.  I may hate black folk, I may hate Jews, I may hate the non-religious, I may hate dwarfs and very tall people, I may hate vegetarians, I may even hate God-fearing white Christian men who devour large quantities of red meat at every meal, and everyone who believes in God, I may hate all women, and I may surely hate gays!  All these are protected rights!  You may have to be a real jerk or worse to automatically hate anyone who belongs to any of these groups, but it is your RIGHT!  It is your right even without God’s blessing!  It is your right, even without the First Amendment's religious freedom clause.

Now let’s take this issue apart and see if we can come up with a workable solution.

It is your right, as a customer, NOT to shop where such people shop or where the owner is such a person.

It is your right, as a worker, to refuse to accept employment with an employer for any such reason.

It is NOT your right, as a large business, to refuse to sell to or provide a service to any such person (Wal*Mart may not discriminate against any customer).

It is NOT your right, as a large employer, to refuse employment to such a person (Wal*Mart may not refuse to hire such a person for any such reason).

Here is where things get interesting, and what I say next is only my opinion, maybe just my best guess.

It is NOT your right, as a small business, to refuse to sell a product to such a person (“I will not sell you a pack of cigarettes or the evening newspaper because I don’t like your kind!”  No way!).

It IS your right, as a small business owner, to refuse to take as a client (not a customer, but a client) any such person.

And it IS your right, as a small business owner, to refuse to hire any such person to work with you.

Of course, where we draw the line between a large business and a small business is open to endless argument.  But most people know the difference.  And why should there be a difference in what they can and cannot do?  Because large businesses inevitably intersect with government; and while people are free to discriminate, government is not.

Finally, as to your rights to discriminate (see the two examples above): to openly declare that you are doing so for that reason is provocative and it will bring you grief.  The owner of Chick Fil-A had every right to his personal feelings about gays and had every right to say it out loud.  But he has no right to have any of his stores refuse to sell to a gay person, or to refuse to hire a gay person.  But being open as he was just showed him to be … intemperate.  And being intemperate is legal in the USA.  God bless America!

And, as I said, this is just my opinion.

Addendum: 03/31/2015
The recent spat between Apple's Tim Cook and Indiana's governor Mike Pence does nothing to alter what I have said above.  Indeed, the super-visible squabble makes my comments relevant once again.

While I see no need to alter what I have written, I would like to add to it.  There is another issue that is closely related to the above.  It is the issue of a pharmacists's right to refuse to fill a properly ordered prescription based on his religious beliefs.  Let's use the example of a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription for a morning after abortion pill.  1) I believe in the individual pharmacist's right to refuse to fill a prescription on the grounds of religious liberty.  2) I also believe in the pharmacy owner's right to fire that pharmacist for such refusal, not on religious grounds but on business grounds ("you are not doing your job", "you are bringing disrepute on our operation").  Ideally, the pharmacy owner and his new employ should have this conversation even before the hire.  3) I believe in the pharmacy owner's right to make policy for his own pharmacy and his employees.  4) EXCEPT under emergency conditions.  At which time, the emergency situation trumps religious liberty.  What do I mean by emergency?  I will defer to the courts on this.  And finally, 5) I believe that a super-chain like Wal*Mart is a special case.  Even if the owners of Wal*Mart - a few Walton family members and a million stock holders - agree to allow all their pharmacists to exercise their religious freedom (to deny service to a customer) without fear of corporate retribution, there must be a pharmacist on duty - at all times - who will not deny service to a customer for any reason or scruple.  The individual pharmacist need not dispense, but the pharmacy must.  I think that just about covers it.

Addendum: Tuesday, 04/28/2015
The "right" to gay marriage went before the Supreme Court today.  My "personal" feeling all along has been: "why would anyone care, what is the skin off your back if a gay couple is legally allowed to marry?"   It does not fly in the face of religious liberty because no religion is being told what it must do, no church must marry, or recognize as married, a gay couple (justice Scalia says I am wrong but I see no evidence of that).  The only "right" being contested here is the right to be treated as a married couple before the law, where the law distinguishes between married and single (e.g., taxes discriminate this way).  If you disagree with my analysis, have the decency to say so and to show me where I am wrong.