Published on: April 1, 2015
We continue to get email about Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which continues to prompt negative reactions from major businesses such as Nike, Marriott and Walmart.
MNB reader Any Casey wrote:Politics, discrimination and religious freedom aside, there are just so many things about this discussion which elude me. As a business owner if don’t want to serve a particular customer I can think of about a million ways to encourage them to go away. Heck, business owners do that a lot even if not intending to. And as a customer, I’m thinking I really don’t want to spend my money with people who make it clear they don’t want my business for whatever reason. Who does that? Particularly since this often centers around wedding cakes the whole discussion brings to mind the movie “The Help”.
MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:Owner to Gay Couple: "We would be most happy to bake your cake for your special day. However, we cannot provide the couple on top you request. However, here is a card for a shop that specializes in all kinds of cake-topping decor. We will provide you the cake and you can simply place the decor on top."
I am sure there is some reason it can't be that simple. Personally if I were gay I probably would not pick a Muslim bakery as first choice, but if I did, maybe because it really makes the best cakes, and the owner said that to me I would understand and be fine with it.
Another MNB user wrote:Any seller should have the right to accept the opportunity-cost of not taking someone's money. All the buyer has to do is take his money who a seller who's happy to take it. Any buyer has the right to "discriminate" by doing business with Store A rather than Store B. Any seller should have the same right.
Maybe you think they should. But they don't. A seller of products and/or services cannot decide they he or she does not want to sell to a particular person because they are male/female/black/white/gay/straight/Muslim/Irish/Catholic/Jewish/Chinese/Greek/smart/stupid/young/old/whatever.
Call me crazy. Call me radical. But I think it is a good thing that we live in a society that does not allow people to discriminate this way.
But having said that, I must admit that I'm overstating what is legal and illegal, in certain cases.
Which is part of what this reader wanted to point out:Comment from a reader:
What horrifies me is the huge disconnect between Gov. Pence and the majority of Americans. Where are they getting the message that we want, or even need this legislation? Wow. Glad I don't live there.
The reader evidences weak logic and a less than tolerant attitude.
Here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times:
A Pew Research Center survey last year showed the American public is divided over the issue of providing services in same-sex marriages. About 49% said businesses should be required to serve same-sex weddings, and 47% said businesses should be permitted to refuse service because of religious objections.
A 2% majority is not a clear mandate! It is clear that the reader thinks this law is a horrible idea, and probably most people in his crowd think the same, but I can tell you that in my circle of friends and family, the opposite is true. The follow-on question - should the majority have the right to impose intolerance on a minority?
He also needs to recognize that the majority voted for the congress and governor, so until they change their thinking, or are voted out, that's the way it is.
This seems to be another case of intolerance in the name of tolerance. Tim Cook and others have declared a war against what they perceive as intolerant behavior, and the media and like minded people join until it drowns out any other voices. The intolerant "others" are constantly demonized and marginalized until there is no possible way for their ideas to be heard. And their "intolerance" is set in stone.
Clearly it is a tragedy when a group decides their thinking on a complex issue is not just superior but settled, and anyone who disagrees is inferior, and they and their ideas cannot be tolerated.
And Kevin, you said:
I've stated my opinion on similar bills here before - that history is replete with examples of people and institutions that use religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate.
You choose to do business in the public square, you have to provide your services to anyone willing to pay for them. That's the deal. Discrimination is illegal.
Actually, discrimination must be done against someone in a protected class of people, such as by race, age or gender, and for an act to be illegal, there must be laws on the books to define what the protected classes are and what actions are considered discriminatory. There is no discrimination if sexual orientation isn't a protected class. So before you drop the "d" word in your critique, perhaps you should check to see if you have any legal ground to stand upon; in Indiana, it isn't a protected class. Kevin, the writer in you should come up with more accurate language to describe what you can't tolerate.
Ronald Reagan once said: “The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom and open-mindedness. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.”
Let me respond, if I may. And I'll work backwards on your comments...
First, I do not think of myself as intolerant of religion. Far from it. I come from a "whatever gets you through the night" perspective, and have seen in many cases how religion can serve as a powerful positive influence in people's lives. And I do not view the arguments on these new laws as being attacks on religion.
(As a matter of transparency, I think it is important to differentiate between God and organized religion. The latter does not always reflect the attributes that I might ascribe to the former. So I think it is entirely possible to criticize religion without attacking God. Also ... while I believe in both tolerance and "whatever gets you through the night," even that has limits ... which will become clear later this week when I review the new HBO documentary about Scientology.)
I do think we are in a sensitive area here, when it appears that civil rights conflict with religious rights. I would never argue, for example, that Catholic priests be forced to perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples ... I may disagree with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, but I think that within the walls of the Church, doctrine should be observed.
There is, of course, the eternal question: Is it ethical for a tolerant person to be intolerant of intolerance?
I'd rather frame the question this way: Can one be compassionate even as one's tolerance limits are tested? And I would argue that in a civilized society, not only can we be compassionate, but we should be compassionate.
I think Rich Heiland has it right above. If a bakery owner or a florist does not believe in gay marriage, then those people should not marry a person of their own gender. But I'm not sure how baking a cake or arranging some daisies for a gay wedding is a sin, or even more importantly, how many actual instances there are in which people of faith are being forced to provide services for people of which they do not approve or for ceremonies that they do not endorse.
You are right that the LGBT community is not a protected class in Indiana, and so such discrimination is not illegal there. I would argue that it should be a protected class, and that such discrimination should be.
I think these laws are largely about making it possible to discriminate. Regardless of what the Pew numbers say, I think that those who defend or promote these laws are going to find themselves on the wrong side of history.
What I find really interesting about this debate is that it seems to be pitting the fiscally conservative business community against social conservatives ... it isn't just Tim Cook and Apple fighting this legislation, but also organizations like NASCAR.
You may want to turn this into a debate between "his crowd" and your "circle of friends,: but I'm not sure it is that simple. But I also think, to be honest, that 10 or 20 years from now, our children will wonder what the hell this argument was all about ... in the same way that my children find it incomprehensible when I told them how I got in trouble as a kid when I was visiting relatives in South Carolina and drank from a "Negeoes-only" water fountain.
From another reader:You’re missing the point.
The bill provides the right to practice religious liberty for individuals in Indiana. It is NOT a right to discriminate. This bill keeps government from infringing on the religious rights of Hoosiers. Contrarians have hijacked this as a “discrimination rights” law. The law does not give anyone the right to discriminate or deny services. IT JUST DOESN’T no matter how many times people may say it! This is a smear tactic to mischaracterize the bill (the word 'gay' does not even appear in the bill).
The political question is why the smear campaign in Indiana after 30 other states/jurisdictions have adopted similar laws? Clinton passed a federal law in 1993 and was applauded. And Obama voted for a similar bill for Illinois.
It is a separate question if businesses are discriminating against patrons. They will lose in the marketplace and in the public arena. How about we all just live by the golden rule to treat others as we expect to be treated.
I think the key to your argument rests in one number: 1993.
That was 22 years ago. A lot has changed in 22 years. Y'think that anyone would have believed then that 37 states would have legal same-sex marriage in 2015?
I think the argument that Clinton signed such a federal law in 1993 and that Obama subsequently supported such a law while an Illinois state senator is what misses the point.
Another MNB user wrote:
While I agree with you on most retailer/supplier issues to our business, understand one thing that trumps anything you or others may say on this issue!
This Country was founded on one major issue! The right to religious freedom.
People didn't run from religious oppression to just open a business.
And like it or not the state can make their own rules. If that weren't true Colorado would not be selling pot.
By the way there are 19 other states that have like rules in effect!
While religious freedom absolutely was a prime motivator in the formation of this country, I'm sort of partial to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peacefully assemble.
But again...we're in a situation where civil rights seem to conflict with religious rights. Compassion and understanding and tolerance would seem to be called for. But where I would draw the line is where religious beliefs are used to abridge the civil rights of anyone.
Not everyone in the MNB community disagrees with me on this. One MNB user wrote:In response to the debate about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, seems like the only logical thing is for these businesses that so adamantly want to protect their “freedoms” to be required to post on their doors (and websites) exactly WHICH groups they choose not to serve. I think things would sort themselves out pretty quickly if we could let our wallets do the voting.
See the t-shirt above.
From another:Religious Freedom Restoration Act!!!…Western Civilization has survived and thrived despite the religious cults coming from the Middle East…and will also survive the mystery cult of revisionist politicians.
And another:Very insightful and helpful information in your “Your Views” section on this. While I am the right wing conservative the Press has warned you about, I am also one who thinks this bill is a load of crap.
I know a number of conservative Republicans who are really upset with this debate ... because, they say, it has just turned this question into one that will be asked at every presidential debate in the 2016 election, and that will detract from the issues on which they would prefer to focus. They say that GOP presidential candidates will have to support the law in order to win the primary races, but that this will make it much tougher to win the general election.
They are not amused.