Discussion: Should private biz be legally penalized for refusing services to customers?

Keep calm

A controversial bill taken up in Kansas recently has stirred a national discussion on what constitutes “religious freedom” versus “unlawful discrimination” – via AP:

TOPEKA, Kan. — An anti-gay marriage proposal that roiled Kansas politics is dead, the chairman of a state Senate committee assigned to review it said Tuesday.

But the declaration from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King didn’t appear likely to end the debate over providing legal protections for people and organizations refusing for religious reasons to provide goods and services to gay and lesbian couples. King, an Independence Republican, said he’ll still have hearings on whether Kansas needs to enact religious liberty protections in case the federal courts strike down the state’s gay-marriage ban.

The House approved a bill last week to prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits when individuals, groups and businesses cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations and employment benefits related to a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or a celebration of such relationships.

Supporters said their intent was to prevent florists, bakers and photographers from being punished for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, keep churches from having to provide space or clergy for such ceremonies and keep religiously affiliated adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples. Critics said the bill was much broader than advertised and would encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Senate leaders already had said the bill would not pass their chamber, but King said Tuesday that his committee won’t even take it up.

I can’t comment on the specifics of the bill because I haven’t seen the details of it, but if what I read from my friends on the right about this bill is accurate, it represents a big overreach from simply “protecting religious freedom.” While I support protecting religious rights, I don’t support any law that would go beyond that and veer into the unfair discrimination realm. Certainly there’s a smarter, less controversial way to protect the religious freedoms of florists, bakers, etc .on this issue, right?

Well, you’d think/hope so, but on the flip side, you have the activist left (and especially militant gay liberals who talk show host Tammy Bruce refers to as the “Gay Gestapo”) who are bound and determined to bend people to their will on the issue of alternative forms of marriage, even if that means using government to punish you for refusing to provide a service related to gay marriage (like a wedding cake, etc). They’re not satisfied if a baker or a florist provided a birthday cake to a gay couple or hospital flowers to the partner of a gay customer – the baker and florist must also, to the militant left, be forced into providing services for those couples specifically as it relates to their union itself, even if the religious beliefs of the service providers go against those types of unions.

Let’s go ahead and state for the record that there are plenty of cake makers , photographers, etc who have no issue whatsoever with providing gay couples who are getting married whatever service they seek. Let’s also note that for some service providers, they don’t want to provide specific services to gay couples because they don’t like gays, while others oppose providing marriage-related services to gay couples on religious grounds – but would provide other services (like for birthdays, graduations, etc) to them upon request.

My thought is this: The explanation given for the grounds for refusal is immaterial, although using a religious rights basis certainly does raise the stakes quite a bit. You aren’t allowed by law to discriminate against a potential employee based on age, sex, race, sexual orientation, religion etc, but should the government also dictate to you what customers you can and can’t provide services to on that same basis?

The prevailing sentiment I’ve seen from those on “our side” when it comes to private business is to let the free market decide rather than government. If the story gets out – and in these types of cases it almost always does – let word of mouth and the public debate over whether it was morally right or wrong do the work rather than have Uncle Sam step in. A business lives and dies on its reputation and if enough people are dissatisfied and take their money elsewhere, perhaps the business might rethink its decisions and practices. That being said, I find it deeply disturbing that anyone on either side of the issue would want to deliberately target a business owner who provides a good or service but who also – with no malicious intent whatsoever – acts based his/her/their religious beliefs when deciding what services to provide and to whom. Some people will discriminate just to be hateful and antagonistic, while others genuinely operate in good faith.

Your thoughts?

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