Monday, April 6, 2015

Refusing Service

I’ve mentioned here a couple of times that all our kids (plus a daughter-in-law) spent their teenage years and beyond working at Chick-fil-A restaurants. They worked for the owner of two of the top five Chick-fil-As. They worked hard, and fast. But were expected always to be courteous, respectful, and service oriented. During rush hours, that could be challenging, but that was just the way those places were run.

When daughter Social Sphere worked there, they had a regular customer whom workers, in privacy, referred to as the Dragon Lady. She was kind of scary—long fingernails that looked like talons. Very short masculine haircut. Sometimes dressed in business suits. Always intimidating.
Not the Dragon Lady's real hand,
just for illustration, found here.
She always had the same special order:
  • Chicken strip salad
  • No tomatoes
  • Extra cheese
  • Two packets of sunflower seeds
  • Two dressings: one Italian, one ranch
  • Put the fork in the bag, so she didn't have to get her own
  • Tortilla strips
  • And don’t you dare put in croutons!
She would spiel off the list very fast. If the worker asked for anything to be repeated, she refused. “You should have gotten it the first time.” Plus condescending roll of the eyes. Then she’d say, “And I’m in a hurry, so you’ve got three minutes.”
The way a fast food place works is, standard salads are made an hour or two ahead of rush hour. A custom salad has to be made fresh, so it takes more time—while everything is moving at top speed behind the counter. So a normal person would expect their custom order to take a little extra time. But they’re done cheerfully—I know, because I always ask for custom salads. But it’s kind of presumptuous to ask—for free—a lot of extras. The extra sunflower seeds, the extra dressing, the tortilla strips, were all extras. But this order happened day after day, without any extra charge, and without argument.
If the order didn’t meet the Dragon Lady’s criteria, she didn’t just ask for it to be made right; she publicly berated the employee and told them how stupid and incompetent they were.
Workers braced for her. The experienced ones knew the order—and got it right! She wouldn’t go to that worker again. Social Sphere watched her purposely leave her line to go to a different worker, to avoid her because Social Sphere knew how to do it flawlessly. The Dragon Lady aimed for new, inexperienced workers. Apparently so she could have an excuse to loudly berate the worker and let everyone know how unhappy she was.
Who knows why it should be the highlight of someone’s day to buy lunch with a heaping helping of bitterness. But that was the Dragon Lady.
One day she did this routine, maybe more severely than usual, with a nervous newer worker. She yelled. She fumed. She put the worker through more than anyone should go through for just a couple dollars over minimum wage.
The owner was there. He stepped in. The confrontation went something like this: “You come here every day. We’ve given you good service. We’ve been nothing but respectful and kind. But you berate my people. You’re loud and abusive. This has been going on for more than a year, and we’re done. You’re no longer welcome in my store.”
In our household, we talked about how affirming it was for employees to have a boss who would stand up for them, to let them know they were worth protecting, even from a paying customer. What a good man!
So, I’m asking the question, did the owner have the right to refuse service to that woman?
Under what circumstances does a proprietor have the right to refuse service to a customer?
Because the courts (and the court of public opinion) have been saying lately that, if someone comes in to your place of business, asking for a product or service that you typically do, you must do it for them. Governor Pence of Indiana has gone out of his way to say that the recent legislation he signed—pretty much the same as the federal version and twenty or so other states—means people have religious protection, but not when it comes to refusing service to anyone.
RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) legislation was highly praised in the 1990s when Bill Clinton signed it. It has a long history or working relatively well. In that time, it has never been used to protect a person’s bigotry. (A good explanation and graphic about how RFRA works is available here.) But suddenly people, even in states that have RFRA laws, feel the need to vocally boycott Indiana because of its “anti-gay” legislation. Which means that the agitprop is working.
The Soup-Nazi, from Seinfeld
Here’s what I think: a businessperson should have the right to refuse service to anyone. Like the soup-nazi in Seinfeld.  By virtue of owning his own business, the proprietor gets to decide what legal exchanges of his services for money he is willing to make.
I’m not in favor of bigotry. And I understand there were times, particularly in the South, where places refused service to significant segments of the population because of their race. But it hasn’t been acceptable in civilized society in decades. (Technically, a civilized society treats all people according to their character.) If business owners are stupid enough to cut off entire segments of the population over something so insignificance as melanin content in the skin, they should suffer the loss of business from those people—and the loss of other customers who don’t want to support a business owner who won’t et their friends come with them.
Without any government intervention, at least in today’s world, business owners should make their own decisions about what they’ll do and whom they’ll serve.
But government has interfered. Instead of everyone being treated equally before the law and society, some people are granted “protected class” status.
Did I mention that the Dragon Lady was black? That detail wasn’t relevant to how she was served and why she was refused future service. Her behavior was the defining factor. But what if she had decided to sue, claiming she was refused service because she was black?
Then it becomes an expensive and painful process for the restaurant owner. Even though he would probably have prevailed, because she had been served, as are all races in that store in our very demographically mixed part of the country, and there were many witnesses to her behavior. But the owner would be in danger simply because the Dragon Lady belongs to a special protected class.
Making protected classes in the first place was probably a mistake. Philosophically, it’s against the equal protection provided by the Constitution. But it was a more particular mistake to make people with same-sex attraction a protected class. Their differences are not inherent. They are not genetic. They are not readily visible. They are differences in behavior. And people can have reasonable differences of opinion about what behaviors are acceptable—with some few areas of general agreement, like “thou shalt not murder” and “thou shalt not steal.”
In many religions, including mine, sex outside of marriage is always a sin. And marriage is as it has been since Adam and Eve, between a man and a woman, a connection intended for eternity. While people with same-sex attraction are God’s children as well, they have the same expectations: complete abstinence outside of marriage, and complete fidelity within marriage (to a marriageable person of the opposite sex).  We believe this is the best arrangement for bringing children into the world and raising them in righteousness. We believe God encourages families for our success and happiness. And social science bears out that truth: family of a married mother and father who raise their children are the basic unit of civilization.
That doesn’t mean we demean or avoid anyone who believes differently, or behaves differently. But it should mean that we cannot be forced to engage in activities that we, in our hearts, perceive as celebrating and supporting a sin.
No one should be expected to give up their right to freely choose what they will do simply because they enter into business to make a living. Nor should there be a lot of debate about whether the thing being asked is too much of an imposition. For instance, is baking a cake designed to celebrate homosexuality really an imposition? But taking photography at the ceremony--that would be participating. Our perception shouldn’t matter; the businessperson’s perception is what should matter.
There’s a growing list of impositions on peoples’ religious freedom (pretty good list here, starting a couple of pages in). And there’s particular prejudice against Christians, with laws being enforced arbitrarily and intrusively. Overly zealous news/agitpropists have even sought out people with religious beliefs so they could target them and put them out of business just for having beliefs, not even for having refused any service to anyone.
Muslim bakers in Dearborn, Michigan, are not required to bake cakes for same-sex “weddings.” (Steve Crowder illustrates this, with humor, here.) Non-Christian bakers aren’t required to bake cakes that express beliefs against their beliefs—a court just ruled in Colorado. I’m assuming this case was done as a test, not because someone actually had an event where those messages would be essential. But it’s clear the court judges the messages being requested: some are protected, along with their protected classes, and some messages are unpopular and therefor unprotected by the courts.
What happens when a person planning a same-sex “wedding” gets respectfully denied? They take a few extra minutes to go elsewhere and get what they want. What happens when a business owner is required to use their arts and skills to celebrate an event that goes against their religious beliefs? They go out of business rather than offend God.
That is not justice.

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