Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Public Accommodation vs. Religious Freedom

As a response to the federal court's overturning a ban on gay marriages in Indiana, lobbyists (particularly from the American Family Association) began working with the state legislature to advance a law that would allow businesses to openly discriminate against gays.  Since the bill was signed into law, Governor Mike Pence has been fending off questions about the effect of the new law, but the lobbyists who pushed for it have not been completely silent.  They understand that any attempt to clarify the law would in effect destroy its real intent.  The law treats public accommodation businesses as if they were humans with religious beliefs, and explicitly allows them to refuse services to anyone who is not a member of any protected class, on the pretense that rendering these services would be a violation of the religious beliefs of the business.  Of course, Indiana does not define the LGBT community as a protected class for discrimination purposes.

What is a public accommodation?

In general, it is any business or facility (whether public or private) that is open to the public.  Under the public accommodation laws, these facilities, services, and merchandise must be made available equally to all without regard to race, color, religion, or ethnicity, or other protected classes of people as identified by the law.

Why are there protected classes in the law?

Simply put, it is because these groups or classes of people have been subjected to widespread discrimination by various public accommodations in the past.  This discrimination is antithetical to our values as Americans.  Most of us believe that all people have the same rights and should be treated equally.  Therefore, there are federal and state laws that designate these classes as being explicitly protected from discrimination in public accommodations.  The federal law does not include gays, but various states include them as a protected class.

What is the conflict between religious freedom advocates and anti-discrimination advocates?

This is really a contrivance by people whose goal is advance an agenda of hatred against people of whom they don't approve.  Many religious freedom advocates say that being forced to provide certain services (such as providing wedding flowers) to gay people is an attack on their religious faith.  The gay community, on the other hand, feels that being denied equal access to these services is an attack on their civil rights.  Let's examine these claims in more detail.

First, there is the issue of being forced by the state to do something that is against one's beliefs.  Businesses are not people, and they do not have religious beliefs.  The owner of the business may have such beliefs, and there is no law that forces him to violate his beliefs.  He has choices available to him.  He can go into a different business.  He can change the services he offers.  Or he can simply stop hating gay people and treat them like anyone else.  The point is that he's not being forced to do anything.

The other main objection I have heard is that rendering these services might be equivalent to expressing an opinion of approval for something (like gay marriage) of which they don't approve.  It would be like being made to write an opinion piece that they don't agree with.  Or it would be a violation of their artistic integrity.  This is simply not true.  In the case of a flower vendor in Florida who was sued because she refused to provide wedding flowers for a gay wedding, the claim was that gay weddings are not real weddings in the eyes of the church.  So what?  She sells flowers for a living, and most of them are not for weddings at all, and she claims that she does serve gay customers (but not gay weddings).  So if she doesn't consider this ceremony to be a wedding, what difference does it make?  She can still sell them some flowers, and not call it a wedding, without violating any religious belief.

Other cases of anti-gay discrimination involve claims related to artistic expression.  A photographer in New Mexico refused to work at a gay wedding because the first amendment gives her the right to choose what pictures to take.  A similar claim was made about creating a wedding cake in Colorado.  Let's get one thing straight.  These businesses are offering services to their customers, not providing approval in the form of art.  The photographer gets paid to take pictures of an event.  This is not artistic expression.  The baker gets paid to make a wedding cake, and there is nothing different about a gay wedding cake, except perhaps for the names of the participants that may be written on the cake.  This is not artistic expression.  If that were true, then any service rendered by any profession could just as well be considered to be artistic expression.  A doctor might refuse to render his "artistic expression" on a gay person.  A bricklayer might refuse build his "artistic" walls on the house of a gay person.  Bullshit.  This is nothing more than hateful people looking for any excuse to deny services to the people they hate. 

Finally, we should examine the claims of the people who are discriminated against.  Is it true that their rights are being violated?  Can't they simply take their business somewhere else?  Well, no, not always.  They may live in a place where there is not much choice.  But even if there is a choice, they shouldn't be made to search for a business that will accommodate them.  They should have the same rights as anyone else.  And if the law allows this discrimination, it can easily become commonplace and widespread.  If they don't fight it, it can become a situation where the choice of businesses available to them is severely diminished.  That was certainly the case for black people before civil rights legislation.  Their civil rights were violated then, and new laws like the one in Indiana threaten to violate the rights of gay people.

So what can be done?

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem.  Dump the barbaric religion that is the basis for all this hatred, and flush it away.  If your religion requires you to treat some people differently from everyone else, to refuse to render services for them in the same manner as you would for anyone else, or to violate their civil rights, then that religion is the problem.  The religion teaches you to hate people and treat them differently.  You may protest that this isn't what your religion teaches, but you would be lying to yourself.  This is what your religion teaches.  And it is barbaric.


  1. You may like to check out a website titled Bilgrimage. It provides a much more tolerant and real understanding of this deliberately contrived situation than any of the usual self-righteous right-wing christian suspects (especially "catholics"). As do the various christian blogs that link into it, both "catholic" and protestant. It also provides a comprehensive critique of the wall-to-wall double-minded awfulness of right-wing "catholic" politics and culture.

    1. Thank you. I never heard of that blog before. Plenty of food for thought there.