Law and prejudice 12

The Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, has vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners who held religious objections to homosexual practices to deny service to gay and lesbian customers.

The issue has been confused by debate as to whether religious belief should trump homosexual “rights”, or vice versa.

That business owners should be able to choose whom they will serve and whom they will not, should not be a question of religious freedom but simply of freedom.

They should be free to withhold their goods and/or services for any reason or none. If they act on sheer whim, that is their “right”.

And if it is because of an opinion – even an opinion that is regarded as politically incorrect – so what?

When the opinions of individuals become the government’s business, government has become totalitarian. An orthodoxy prevails. As in Calvin’s Geneva, Catholic Spain, Stalin’s Russia,  Mao’s China, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.  The thought police are after you. They have ways of making you reveal the thoughts you are trying to keep private.

It is THE LAW that should not discriminate. Judgment in a court of law should be untainted by  pre-judgment – or “prejudice” in the true meaning of the word. (Though there are exceptions. The law rightly discriminates on the grounds of age, holding children less responsible for their actions than adults;  and on grounds of mental capacity, holding the insane less responsible than the sane.)

But individuals living  their private lives, can, do, and must discriminate in all their judgments. We are all prejudiced. Indeed, there is no way anyone could get through life without prejudices. We have numerous ways of quickly informing ourselves about other people. In a flash we have taken in his appearance, race, color, voice, accent, and so on, and in the secret chambers of our hearts and minds are bringing ready opinions to bear on him. It is a short cut without which we would be perpetually bewildered.

We all have first impressions, and what we make of them depends on our prejudices. We all find someone attractive or repulsive, interesting or dull on first acquaintance, and those first impressions are inevitably affected by prejudice. “Oh, he’s this or that, and I like it (or don’t like it).” But then you get to know him a little and find, perhaps, that he’s not this or that after all. We leap to instant judgment, but sensible people quite naturally make the reasonable decision to wait until they know the stranger better to see whether he is someone they want as a friend or employee or whatever.

In fact, no generalization about a person’s origins, race, nationality, descent, religious affiliation, sexual proclivity, age group, or anything else can ever reasonably be applied with certainty to any individual. But still and forever we will bring our vague associations to bear on our judgments. After that, intelligence should guide us to better judgment, because it is in our interest that it should. (Not because, for instance, some religious idealist issued an impossible-to-obey instruction to love everybody.)

Below we quote from an article by John Hawkins at Townhall, dealing chiefly with reasons why Christians who disapprove of gay marriage should not have to provide services for gay weddings. (The issue which gave rise to the Arizona bill.) But he does make a general point that people can refuse their services for any reason. 

John Hawkins writes:

Businesses should generally have the right to refuse customers: Because of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and the other abominations Democrats forced on America, we did choose as a nation to treat race differently than most other issues. So, we do not allow businesses to discriminate based on race – and that’s a good thing. However, businesses can and do turn away customers for almost every other reason imaginable. Shouldn’t they be able to do that?

Shouldn’t the Super Bowl be allowed to decline an advertisement from a porn website? Shouldn’t the NAACP be able to turn away KKK members from a speech? Shouldn’t a movie theater be allowed to tell people who insist on using cell phones in the theater that they’re not welcome? Shouldn’t Wal-Mart be allowed to refuse to carry NAMBLA literature in its stores? Shouldn’t a nightclub be allowed to tell people wearing gang colors that they’re not welcome? Shouldn’t the Democratic Party be allowed to decline ads on its website from the Republican Party? On a personal note, at my website Right Wing News I’ve declined advertisements from porn websites, a dating service for “sugar daddies,” a dating service for people who are married, and even a t-shirt seller I considered to be homophobic. …  For every American with rudimentary common sense, these questions answer themselves.

Does the law at present allow that freedom? Surely whatever is not specifically forbidden in law is allowed. (It is obviously impossible to make a comprehensive list of everything anyone might ever do and declare that it must or must not be done.) If at present people are free, in these ever less free United States, to serve whom they will and not be coerced to serve those they’d rather not, then the law Governor Brewer vetoed was superfluous.

Customers choose which business they will patronize without having to explain why they chose that one and rejected others. Why should business not have the same freedom of choice? A businessman might be foolish to turn away someone who wants to give him dollars in exchange for the merchandise or service he deals in, but he certainly should not be forced to serve anyone against his will.