Just for background, in 1995 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put out The Family: A Proclamation to the World (sometimes shortened to The Family Proclamation). It seemed straightforward, the same things we’d heard all our lives, beliefs practically everyone we ran into still held. Many of us wondered, why the proclamation? But within a year practically every line in it was challenged, in public discussion, in courts, in international organizations and UN non-governmental organizational treaty proposals. Now, two decades into the onslaught on family, we can see it was a prophetic document.
Recently the (less formal) proclamation I keep hearing from these Church leaders is that all believers need to stand up for religious liberty. (This speech at BYU-Idaho is one example.) Even if we don’t feel the attacks directly yet, my expectation based on experience with such prophetic proclamations leads me to believe this is an increasing real threat. We've dealt with it in part recently, as we watch the Supreme Court cases with Hobby Lobby and others.
So it is with that background that I am looking at the current issue. Specifically, what happened yesterday was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of a law spelling out the right of business owners to refuse to provide services that go against their religious beliefs. I haven’t read the law itself. What I understand is that Arizona already had a religious rights restoration law, patterned quite literally after the same federal law for that purpose signed by Pres. Clinton in the 1990s, shortly prior, and has been in place without fuss since then. The addition was to clarify that private business owners had the protection even when there was no government entity involved in the case (suits brought by private citizens against private business owners).
The reason was based on a growing list of cases, mostly related to small business owners being asked to perform services related to same-sex “weddings,” including in states where laws do not recognize such “marriages” as lawful, which would be the case for Arizona. The list includes bakers, photographers, wedding planners, florists, and others you might turn to for services at a wedding. Another was a t-shirt printer who wouldn’t print t-shirts for a gay pride festival. In none of the cases were the plaintiffs refused all services; in each case, the small business owner suggested the limits of services they would provide, and offered alternative sources, including less expensive alternatives. Nevertheless, the “offended” plaintiffs, rather than going to someone willing to take their money and provide the services they requested, took the small business owners to court—to force them to provide the service against their will.
It is my assumption that the majority of these cases (and possibly every one) is a purposeful act to use courts to force the homosexual agenda on the portions of society that haven’t succumbed to their pressure already, with religious people in the crosshairs. Courts have been helping by going along with that agenda, rather than abiding by the law.
In what universe would we expect to see an American forced to do work he finds religiously objectionable? In the slave-owning antebellum South, maybe. But it has been a century and a half since we fought the Civil War to do away with that ugly injustice.
Yet we have judges now who say, “I don’t like your religious belief, so I say you have to do as I say, or your alterative is a fine that will have the effect of closing down your business.” The judge decides that the baker’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (the way he chooses to make a livelihood and provide himself with property) are the judge’s to allow or disallow at whim. That is slavery.
As for yesterday’s ruling, I think Jan Brewer was wrong. She is generally conservative, but this was a political decision. It wasn’t based on the merits of the law; it was, as she claimed, because people were concerned about vagueness in the law (issues not brought up during the discussion in the legislature), and because this wasn’t a focus of her current agenda. Hmm. So, if the legislature varies from her agenda, she vetoes their work? Not usually. What followed the passage of the legislation was a hue and cry from some well-funded homosexual agenda promoters, and they threatened Arizona with a boycott, which frightened Arizona tourist industry businesses, including principally a threat from the NFL about taking away the Superbowl. And the governor caved to pressure from the bullies. She has my sympathy, but not my admiration.
My non-expert legal opinion is that the law would have been useful, but would not have gone far enough. I believe a business owner has the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. Every business exchange is an agreement between seller and buyer. It has to be coercion free.
I am not saying it’s a good idea to refuse service for stupid reasons—like racism, which is what comes to mind. I think, along with the overwhelming majority of civilized people, that racism is a stupid way of thinking—but I think business owners have the same right everyone has to be stupid. And you as a consumer have the choice to go to a service provider of your choice. You are free to avoid going to someone who declares himself to be a stupid bigot. The free market makes it naturally hard—without any government interference—for a known bigot to discriminate against customers without civilized people knowing about it and going elsewhere, affecting his profitability.
The Civil Rights movement—people changing people’s minds--makes sense to me. The Civil Rights legislation, not so much. Again, I didn’t grow up in a place that ever had Jim Crow laws. They were despicable. But the forgotten problem was that those laws often forced businesses to segregate. Change came when people stepped up and said, “That’s not right,” crossed lines and tested them. Change didn’t come from government suddenly getting noble and spreading noble ideas to the people.
The repeal of those laws could have said, “Government is getting out of your business; you can get back to free exchange with anyone you choose,” and let the movement of opinion lead naturally to free-choice interracial business. Instead, government stepped in and enforced desegregation, and probably lengthening continued resentment and prejudice.
Government can’t change people’s beliefs, or change their hearts from evil to good; government can only force. So if we don’t limit government, we simply get a change of target.
Some of the commentary yesterday, from the other side, said (paraphrased), “We can’t allow people to hide behind so-called religious beliefs to get away with offensive discrimination against gays.” [Good discussion from both sides here.] Really? So, some government entity, maybe a court, should have the power to examine a person’s religious beliefs, to determine whether they’re heartfelt, and also to determine whether those beliefs should be accepted, heartfelt or not, if someone else feels offended by them? And said government should have the power to coerce a free citizen business owner to offer a service or create a product he doesn’t want to create—for religious or any other reason?
People (including judges) who knee-jerk react based on their unwillingness to appear insensitive to the current loudest crying “victim” of being offended, ought to learn how to think through an issue. Saying, “I don’t like your reason for not baking a certain cake, so I’m not buying from you anymore” is a huge chasm away from “I don’t like your reason for not baking a certain cake, so I’m using the force of government to coerce you to do what I say or else lose your ability to do business at all.”
Who is most harmed? The people who got their feelings hurt because they were pointed to some other bakery that would willingly provide the service they wanted; or the business owner who has his business shut down if he doesn’t use his skills in a celebration that goes against his beliefs? Isn’t it obvious that the business owner is the one being harmed?
There are so many related hypotheticals we can use to examine the question of slavery. I thought we’d get to such a list in a single post, but that will have to be a starting place for part II.
In the meantime, you might want to check out some additional commentary: blogger Matt Walsh spent two days this week dealing with this idea. (I’m regularly following his blog now. He’s insightful and logical, and as in this case writes what I was planning to cover before I get to it.) The two pieces are:
And it was while listening to the Hugh Hewitt show that I heard Governor Brewer’s announcement, followed by discussion. If you have access to his archive, I particularly liked the second half of the third hour on Wednesday, February 26.