I don’t know what the big deal is about the proposed Arizona law protecting business owners who decline to provide services for ceremonies they believe are wrong.
Quite a few people cheered in 2010 when three Washington, D.C. area hotels refused to host the convention of American Renaissance, a “white nationalist” group that advocates racist and other discriminatory beliefs.
The hotels didn’t refuse service because of who the members of American Renaissance are. They refused service because of what American Renaissance does. What American Renaissance does is perfectly legal, and no one disputes that the group has the right to think, publish, and advocate its ideas, which many people (including me) find repellent. But hotel management decided in each case that it would be objectionable – to some of its other customers, at the very least – to allow their premises to be used for American Renaissance’s gathering.
Should the law have forced the hotels to host the American Renaissance convention? According to the logic being used by critics of the Arizona bill (for which Governor Jan Brewer’s veto decision is due on Friday), the hotels should have been required to serve American Renaissance. A business owner has no right to refuse service to someone merely because the customer’s purpose or intended event conflicts with the owner’s beliefs.
By that logic, of course, all kinds of business owners should be compelled by law to do all kinds of things. How about advertising agencies and broadcasters: shouldn’t they be compelled to sell their services to everyone, without discrimination on the basis of the owners’ social or moral beliefs? If the KKK decides it wants to launch a recruiting campaign that involves a Super Bowl commercial, shouldn’t all the relevant businesses, including the National Football League and the broadcaster, be required to take the KKK’s money?
Let’s make it more realistic, here, by using an example that actually happened. There are plenty to choose from, including the Daniel Defense gun company ad rejected for the 2014 Super Bowl, an ad for a gay dating site rejected for the 2010 Super Bowl, a Tim Tebow ad quoting John 3:16 for the 2011 Super Bowl, and a PETA ad rejected for the 2009 Super Bowl. By the logic of the Arizona bill’s critics, the NFL and the broadcaster should have been required to run these and many other ads.
Of course, one practical problem with all the ads people want to run is that they won’t all fit in one Super Bowl broadcast. We can’t trust the interested parties to make advertising decisions that don’t involve moral beliefs or discrimination against certain customers’ purposes. At least, we can’t trust them to always make decisions that we, personally, would approve of. So it would probably be better to have the government make the decisions.
That wouldn’t make the decisions “fair,” of course. (Indeed, we’d have a mighty peculiar feeling about the whole thing if we reflected, as we watched the Super Bowl, that the commercials had been selected for us by a government commission.) But we could at least take comfort in the fact that the biased individuals who made the selections were from the government, and were not acting in their own private capacity.
That private-capacity decision-making is a keg of dynamite. If we think about it, we realize how wrong it is that the hotels in Washington, D.C. had the discretion to turn someone’s business away just because they had a moral attitude about what the business involved. Why, any of us might make decisions about our property and our labor and our purchasing power that other people would disagree with. We might even make decisions that other people are offended by.
So let’s club that whole bag of snakes into submission right now. We’ll have to start with an apology to American Renaissance, whose rights were violated in 2010 by three major hotel chains, while we sat passive and silent – or worse, applauded the hotel chains for their hurtful discrimination.
Keep in mind, the hotels wouldn’t have refused service to the members of American Renaissance if the members had just shown up individually seeking accommodation. It was American Renaissance’s proposed event that the hotels decided not to host, and the decision was made because of moral feelings about the event’s nature.
Similarly, bakeries and photographers who don’t care and wouldn’t ask about their customers’ sexual orientation, if the customers wanted birthday cakes or personal photo shoots, have refused service to events – same-sex weddings – with which they disagree for personal reasons. If the bakers and photographers should be punished and hounded out of business for this form of discrimination, the hotels should be too.
In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center should think shame on itself for suggesting that American Renaissance be denied equal service because of someone’s else’ moral objection to the perfectly legal, constitutionally protected event the group wanted to hold. There’s probably a way to sue SPLC for damages. Let’s get this ball rolling, and then start in on the Super Bowl.