I can’t remember a time when people have been more confused about rights, discrimination, and bigotry than right now. The confusion has reached what seems like epidemic proportions, and it’s not slowing down, at least not that I can see.
I want to focus on two recent events that have become primary topics of conversation on social media: The Supreme Court rules in favor of Jack Phillips (kind of), and the Red Hen restaurant kicks Sarah Sanders and her party out on “moral” grounds.
The Red Hen incident reminds us of the Jim Crow era with startling lucidity. But this time, it wasn’t the force of law driving the bigotry, it was the bigotry of the owners. And the targets of the segregationists are the conservatives and/or Republicans.
Before we go any further, I need to clarify some basic points for those who are confused about them:
- A restaurant owner has a moral right to deny service to anyone they please for any reason, even bigotry. This is because a restaurant and the service it provides are the private property of the owner. If the government forces the owner to sell to or do business with anyone, the government has become a totalitarian state, and the freedom of the individual to own private property and sell it to whoever they wish (freedom of association) is rubble.
- Even though #1 above is true, that doesn’t guarantee that denying service in any given circumstance and for any given reason is necessarily prudent or virtuous. People have a right to deny service on the basis of their personal bigotry, but I wouldn’t recommend it. However, it is still ultimately their decision, and if we make this agenda illegal, we have made a grave mistake.
- Even though #1 above is true, that doesn’t mean any criticism of those who deny service on the basis of personal bigotry is unwarranted. I can criticize someone for denying service because of bigotry, and support their right to do so at the same time.
Bigotry is a tricky concept. I would argue that the Red Hen owners are bigots of the first order. Why? Because they denied service to people they disagreed with, not because serving them would put anyone in danger or would violate any (real) moral principles. Their claim that refusing service to the Sanders party was on “moral grounds” is idiotic. It’s not immoral to serve “immoral” people. If it was, no one would serve anyone. I disagreed sharply with the policies and ideology of the Obama administration. But if I owned a restaurant and he wanted to dine there, I would happily serve him and his family without hesitation. I would call him “sir” and honor them with impeccable service.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making this about me, and I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’m simply making a basic point: we all have a responsibility to make wise decisions when it comes to doing business with others. We need to make sure we really are refusing service on valid moral grounds. If we aren’t, we have become bigots, even though we have a moral right to be bigots on the grounds that we can do whatever we choose with our own private property.
There are many who would use the same reasoning to accuse Jack Phillips of bigotry. But they would be mistaken. Jack Phillips didn’t refuse to serve gays. He refused to serve a gay wedding. He had served gay customers numerous times in the past. His decision was limited and focused, rather than broad and bigoted.
The Red Hen, on the other hand, refused service to Sanders because of their bigotry toward Republicans, Trump, conservatives, and anyone they disagreed with politically. Remember, they have a moral right to do so. But remember also that it’s not a very good idea, and it is bigotry regardless of the fact that they have a right to their own bigotry.
The critical distinction we must make is that persecuting, humiliating, harrassing, or disenfranchising people for their allegedly bad politics or ideas is bigotry. Bigotry is about how you treat people. When you attack and oppose false and/or harmful ideas, that’s not bigotry, it’s integrity. Bigotry is about people, integrity is about principles.
If the owners of the Red Hen had approached Sanders and her dinner party and said, “Welcome to our restaurant…you’re welcome to dine here, but we wish to inform you that we object to your politics and beliefs, and we would welcome the opportunity to dialog about it,” that would have shown integrity. But throwing them out and refusing to serve them is a personal gesture aimed at people, not ideas, and that’s bigotry. It’s no different than refusing to serve black people in the 50s.
Keep in mind that even though it’s disgusting to show that kind of bigotry, people do have a right to. We are talking about the subtle difference between exercising rights and loving our neighbor. Restaurant owners in the 50s (and before) and in the present all have a right to refuse service for whatever reason they choose. But if that reason is bigotry, what they are doing is unloving and cruel to their neighbor, even though it may not necessarily be immoral in the sense that they can do what they wish with their private property. It’s helpful to think of it in terms of differentiating between a tragedy and an injustice. Discrimination based on bigotry is unloving and tragic, but it is not necessarily socially unjust. It seems strange, but it’s true. The apostle Paul put it eloquently: “I have the right to do anything—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but not everything is constructive.”
You may ask, “then what about Jack Phillips? Wasn’t refusing to put the wedding message on that cake bigotry?” The answer may surprise you: no. As we saw above, Jack served gay customers before the cake incident. He never kicked them out of his cake store on the moral grounds that he believes homosexuality is immoral. He always welcomed gays in his store, and he would gladly bake them a birthday cake. Since we’ve seen that bigotry is directed at people, Jack’s decision wasn’t bigotry. His opposition wasn’t directed toward the gay people, but toward the same-sex wedding itself. That’s an objection to an idea, and to the event that expresses or celebrates that idea. Objecting to and attacking an idea you find offensive, harmful, immoral, or false is integrity, not bigotry.
If Jack had refused service to those gay men consistently—because they were gay—and ran them off every time they showed up, that would be bigotry. This would be true even though he may be exercising his right to do with his property what he chooses and to associate with whomever he chooses. But that’s not what Jack did. It’s what the Red Hen did.
Some of the civil rights laws of the 60s are a misapplication of the equal rights of all people. Repealing the nefarious Jim Crow laws was the right thing to do because they enforced discrimination by mandate. But automatically prohibiting all discrimination makes the opposite mistake, because it violates the First Amendment rights of those who may choose to discriminate for valid reasons the state is incapable of discerning. Since the government cannot read minds, it cannot impose a broad unconditional prohibition on discrimination, because in so doing, it shuts down the wisdom of the individual, which is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to avoid.
It does no harm to a gay couple to be told “no” when they ask a bakery to bake them a wedding cake. The bakery across the street will be happy to serve them. But when a gay couple uses political and legal force to bully a bakery into baking their cake, it does massive harm to the bakers. Why? Because if they comply (i.e. obey), they are being forced to violate their religious convictions and their first amendment rights have been shamelessly obliterated. If they refuse, they will suffer harmful economic and legal consequences. One bakery was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake. That will cause ruin on a scale from which there is no recovery. But the LGBTLMNOP activists have made their point, they have destroyed the lives of those they are oppressing, and they feel absolutely no remorse.
The fundamental idea people need to learn is that discrimination is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be rational and virtuous. If a convicted child molester wants to babysit a mother’s children, does she have a right to say “no?” Of course, she does. That’s discrimination, folks, and it’s a good thing she has the right to discriminate. In her case, her discrimination is a luminous example of integrity. The left believes discrimination is always wrong, and to be consistent, they would approve of coercing that mother to allow the child molester to babysit her kids by force, against her will—the safety of her children be damned. That’s the bankrupt totalitarian ideology of the left, which has abandoned reason in favor of insanity.
If even a few people can avoid the confusion between bigotry and integrity, we are further along than we were before.
Photo: Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Va. Credit: Red Hen/Facebook