Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mandatory Non-discrimination

This is getting old, but I’ve been busy. I oppose legal carve-outs for people of faith, but I still disagree with the understanding of rights that says a bakery has to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple.

If I have a right to be served, what do you call the corresponding obligation that you serve me? Obviously, there is law compelling businesses that serve the public do so in a non-discriminatory manner. But that’s a law, not a right. It would disappear if Congress amended the governing legislation and the President signed it. Rights don’t come and go at Congress’ whim.

My rights don’t make demands on you. I have a right to free speech. (That right is not absolute; it is limited for slander, inciting to riot, fighting words, yelling fire in a crowded theater, decibel levels, etc.) But even if I am properly exercising that right, there is no obligation for you to listen. If you had a right to be served, it would be like a right to free speech that required people to listen.

Should you be required to work for R.J.Reynolds? Should you be required to shop at Walmart? If you don’t approve of Chic-Fil-A, should you be required to eat there? Of course not. But if you can refuse your services and your trade to those businesses, why can’t they refuse theirs to you? If you get to make economic choices to help you to achieve your objectives in life, why can’t businesses? Shouldn’t it be up to their management (and ultimately their shareholders) to decide whether to turn away paying customers?

If what’s being discussed is a government service — public schools, highways, police and fire departments — then as a citizen, you have only one government and you can’t go to one with a more enlightened policy. Citizens should all be “equal before the law.” So the law should mandate non-discrimination by the government.

But private businesses (even those that serve the public at large) should be free to discriminate just like the public is free to discriminate against businesses.

The root problem with Jim Crow — the discriminatory laws that people like President Woodrow Wilson passed — is that the water fountains and buses and hotels were required by law to be segregated. Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking the law.

Businesses were forbidden by law from making racial nondiscrimination part of their business model. Instead, the law made it so that companies run by and for bigots were protected from the economic consequences of their own stupidity. The law today simply reverses that, making all companies pretend to be enlightened, making it that much harder for me to identify and reward the ones that truly are.