Arizona has been in the news a lot lately because of new proposed legislation. Popular opinion in the media and the outraged public is calling this “hate legislation” and saying it will “legalize discrimination.”
And I have to wonder. Have any of the people who are opposed to the bill actually read it? Because, honestly, it doesn’t change that much. Technically, people already have that right. “No shoes, no shirt, no service” is one very obvious example. Businesses also have the right to expel someone for behaving in a disorderly manner, and they can post other restrictive signs; for example, even though carrying a firearm is legal in Arizona, businesses can refuse to allow law-abiding citizens to carry a firearm in their establishment. So it’s not actually changing the law. Basically, it affords those businesses protection from being sued for refusing service to people based on their religious convictions. For those of you who are interested, here is the proposed bill. The black is the bill that’s already in place, and the blue is the proposed changes. For those who don’t want to read it, basically what it does is it extends the rights of people to refuse service based on religious convictions to extend to businesses themselves.
As of last night, Arizona’s governor vetoed the bill. Now, honestly, I don’t think she had any choice, at least if she wanted to have a continued career. The backlash of public opinion would be too large. Moreover, based on what I’ve seen on both sides, she may have made the right choice. This bill may not have been the right one or the best one for this issue. So, at this point, a discussion of this particular bill is moot anyway, but there will be others like it, here and in other states, so I think it’s still worth discussing.
This law has nothing to do with legalizing hate and discrimination against gays. It has everything to do with protecting the rights of individuals and small business owners. Matt Walsh does a fabulous job of discussing this, so I highly recommend you check out his post on the subject. But I think it goes beyond this.
The media hype would love for us to believe this is solely about gay-bashing. Some of the main cases being cited are bakeries and photographers who deny to bake cakes for and photograph homosexual weddings.
First of all, this is not the same as discriminating against gay people simply because they’re gay. As Matt Walsh cited in his post (linked above), there’s a big difference between refusing to sell anything to gay people and not wanting to participate in an activity to you find morally wrong. Someone who bakes a cake or photographs a wedding is actively participating in the activity. They spend hours and hours with the couple creating works of art, and especially in the case of photographers, are actually in attendance at the event. However, if the baker or photographer declines because they don’t feel comfortable, they can get sued. Activists say things like, “Don’t like gay weddings? Don’t go to one!” and yet, when a business owner tries to politely decline, they get sued. In essence, it is forcing them to go against their religious beliefs and actively participate in an activity that they find morally objectionable.
And despite the media and social hype, this isn’t just about gays. The same right to deny service extends to numerous other religious practices. It is the same law that protects Muslim cab drivers from driving with a single woman or Muslim barbers from cutting a woman’s hair based on their practice of Muslim law. It’s the same law that protects Jewish delis from having to cater an event that requests non-kosher foods. It’s the same law that protects a vegan business owner from having to do business with a meat processing plant or a leather purse company. It’s the same law that protects a black business owner from having to do business with the KKK. It’s the same law that protects an alcoholic or someone who believes consuming alcohol is wrong from having to serve it or do business with a brewery. The law doesn’t just protect bigots from being sued for discriminating against gays, it protects every single person and business owner from being sued for not wanting to do business with another party they find morally objectionable.
The media would like to tell us that this is opening the doors for civil rights infringements, like signs on restaurants that say “No blacks” or “no gays.” In reality, though, this is not what is happening. It’s the small business owners who don’t want to actively partake in an objectionable activity that they object to who are being targeted.
Some of the arguments I’ve seen include statements like, “They were discriminated against. It was mean and hateful. I am pretty sure the law suit was won and rightfully so. Do I think businesses should be sued? Nope, I think businesses should make better business decisions that do not discriminate against people simply because they are different then what they think they should be.” And “This is a gateway to discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. It states that the person has to really hold those religious beliefs. So, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself what Jesus would do? Uphold the religious ideologies of hate and fear? Or love people and show love in your business or place of work no matter what you believe. It is the same arguments of the civil rights era. Do you think all people should be treated equally under the law?” And so on.
Here’s the thing, though. You can’t legislate the mean and nasty out of people. If you make a law against one type of expression of mean and nastiness, they’ll find another. Will some businesses and business owners discriminate? Almost certainly. But that’s the beauty of a free society. You don’t have to give them your business. You don’t have to contract with them or offer them a service. You and all your friends can give your money and business elsewhere. And, honestly, why would you want to? If, for example, you’re a lesbian couple looking for a photographer for your wedding, and the photographer you contact doesn’t want your business, why would you want them there? You can sue them and force them to cover your wedding, but you can’t force them to not “accidentally” miss the shot of the kiss or the cake cutting. You can’t force them not to time their pictures badly so in every shot you look like a drunken hyena. You can’t force them not to belittle your guests. People who are going to be mean and nasty are going to be, and they’re likely to be worse if you force them into a situation. And frankly, they have a right to be mean and nasty. And you have a right to not support them. It’s not about civil rights; it’s not denying human rights to people based on ethnicity or making them drink from different fountains or sit at the back of the bus. It’s a specific person or business choosing to do or not to do business with specific others, and it’s their right. It is not your right to demand that they pay you a certain amount of money because they hurt your feelings. If, in fact, they become discriminatory or use hate speech or any of the other actions that are actually illegal, then you still have legal recourse. But if you get your feelings hurt because they don’t agree with you, move on and find someone who does.
Now, as for this specific law, should it have been vetoed? I can see both sides. It could potentially open the door for abuse and discrimination. However, at some point the civil liberties of one party or another are bound to overlap. Whose rights do you defend? The right of a business owner to not participate in an activity they find objectionable? Or the right or someone who feels discriminated against to sue?
For anyone interested, here are some related articles that point out pros and cons to both sides of the debate. At the very least, we should all be informed before we jump on one bandwagon or the other.