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[TBT] The Right to Discriminate

March 4, 2014 Leave a comment

It sounds ugly, it really does – allowing a private business or individual to deny their service to a specific person or group of people. At face value it seems ridiculous; perhaps immature. However, in the name of preserving liberty, there is merit to permitting discrimination in the private sector. The merit is found in the protection of personal liberty.

Before I venture further, it should be clarified that all public goods and services are to be available to everyone. Places such as public buildings, schools, libraries, hospitals, access to public officials, representatives and due process of law, as well as the services of police, medical emergency, fire emergency, et cetera, where funded by taxpayers and/or guaranteed by the Constitution should be accessible to all legal citizens.

In our hyper-sensitive, politically correct world it is taboo for someone to be denied in any way because of the beliefs of someone else. It can certainly seem asinine to anyone who does not share the perspectives of the person denying someone else. No doubt, given the choice, some businesses would abuse the right to deny people based on unfair and senseless discrimination. Still, the fundamental premise of the right to deny is to protect the right of individuals to freely act in a way that does not violate their personal principles. While it is unfortunate that discrimination has been abused for outrageous reasons, such as racism, in the past (and sometimes even today), the alternative is far worse. That alternative is forcing the compliance of individuals and private businesses, to go against their own beliefs.

To illustrate the issue, let us look at two hypothetical situations from either side in their worst case scenarios. One with forced compliance and one with discrimination permitted.

Example 1: John is a restaurant owner in the deep south. His establishment has been in his family for generations. John is also a racist. In this example, there is no law restricting his right to discriminate against his patrons. So John does what he wants and denies service to black, Hispanic and Asian people. He crafts a large sign to hang outside the restaurant that reads “WHITES ONLY”. As a result of his actions, only white people come to eat there. When someone of a different ethnicity arrives, they leave once they realize they are not welcome. Understandably upset, they take their money to a different restaurant.

Now let’s look at the other extreme.

Example 2: Saul is a Rabbi at his local Synagogue. Recently in his state, gay marriage was legalized. However, Saul, as a practicing follower of Judaism, knows that his faith considers homosexuality a sin and gay marriage to be unacceptable. A gay couple in the Jewish community comes to his synagogue and asks to be married by the Rabbi in the Jewish tradition. In this example, the law requires that all businesses and private establishments must offer their services equally to all and the Synagogue is not excluded. But the Rabbi does not comply with the law. It violates the teachings of his faith. The gay couple goes to the authorities who respond by warning Saul that if he denies the couple their right to be married, he will be punished. Saul still refuses to comply on principle. He is then fined for his actions, according to the local statute. The Rabbi and the members of his congregation agree that they should not have to pay this fine and refuse to pay it. The situation escalates and for failing to pay the fine, Saul is thrown in jail. The gay couple is still not married by that synagogue, and now the Rabbi is sitting in jail for refusing to violate the precepts of his religious beliefs.

Those two examples are concoctions of worst case scenarios from either side of the issue. In the first example, the victims (potential patrons of John’s restaurant) are forced to go somewhere else for the services they desire. In the second example, the victim (Rabbi Saul) loses his freedom to practice his faith and is jailed. While atrocities like racism and homophobia are deemed unacceptable by our society, a free country must seek to protect all personal liberties – even the offensive ones.

The freedom to act according to our deepest convictions and beliefs is one of the fundamental ideas the United States was founded upon. Without it, the vision of liberty is tarnished and weak. Sometimes legalizing freedom will offend or inconvenience others. However, to restrict the right of the individual from practicing his core values is strictly un-American.

The freedom to make our own choices is not supposed to be issued only to those we deem good and right. It also extends to the vile and disgusting among us. We might not agree with them, and we might even loathe them, but we cannot pick and choose who gets what liberties because freedom in and of itself can’t be discriminatory. Personal principles and beliefs will include religious beliefs, cultural traditions, political motivation, pro-homosexual, anti-sexist and anti-racist tendencies…in addition to racism, sexism and homophobia.

The catch

In a free country, business and individuals choose whom they interact with. But that does not mean there is a void of consequences for making those choices. I speak of the free market.

The free market is that unseen animal, the invisible beast, that lurks in the shadows of the deregulated, unstimulated, capitalist economy. It exists in the relationship between producer and consumer. The business and the client. The buyer and the seller. It dictates which establishments rise and which fail.

In a free market, the potential customers are unrestricted in their search for the goods and services they desire. They have their choice and how they make that choice depends on their preferences. Those preferences could be price, quality, quantity, accessibility or even how they feel about the company or person they patronize.

Yes, if a person does not like a business because of how that business conducts its business, they can take their business elsewhere. It does not even have to affect them personally; if they see a company mistreating or discriminating against another person or group of people, they can refuse to patronize it. When enough people cease to interact with an establishment, it hurts them…sometimes badly.

In the competitive business environment, such as we have in America, negative perception is not something companies want associated with their image. They want as many customers as possible to generate as much revenue as possible in order to reach their full potential. The same goes for individuals, only on a much smaller scale, and instead of revenue, community respect and personal success is often the currency. So if a business is going to discriminate against a group, it had better be for a good reason, and they should expect to deal with the consequences.

Let us go back to our previous examples

Example 1 continued: John already does not get business to his restaurant from American minorities, so his clientele is already limited. In addition, however, word gets out that he has made his business a “white only” locale. Some people will be fine with it, and might even be more inclined to dine there if they share his racist views. Others will be appalled and never set foot there again – if for no other reason than to avoid being seen as racist – but more likely because they find John’s action to be offensive. Maybe John’s restaurant survives….but maybe it does not. His fate will be dependent on how many other racist patrons he can attract to keep his business alive.

We will now look at the second example, but this time, there are no laws requiring the Rabbi to provide marriage services to the gay couple. He lives in the same world John does.

Example 2, alternate ending: The gay couple requests the wedding. Rabbi Saul refuses. The gay couple goes elsewhere for their services. They spread the word that the synagogue thinks homosexuality is a sin, and no more gay couples request the Rabbi to marry them. Saul is fine with that. Maybe he loses some of his more liberal members. Maybe he receives threats, or insults. But he is still free and still adhering to the fundamentals of his faith.

Either way, the gay couple did not get what they wanted from the Rabbi. In both versions the Rabbi stayed true to his beliefs. The only difference of substance is that in one situation, Saul was punished for his principles by the government and in the other he freely accepted the affects of others’ choices that related to him.

Disclaimer: I acknowledge that there are infinite variables that could be applied to this issue and that I only chose two hypothetical models. I constructed them only to illustrate the point so it is understood in a practical sense and its real-world effects.

Freedom is not always pretty. It does not always create a utopian world where everyone gets what they want and no one’s feelings are hurt. Yet when unleashed, freedom gives us the opportunity to reach our fullest potentials and the choice to live as we see fit.

“…Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s not just an eloquent phrase – it’s the American way.