COMMENTARY: Refusing service in the name of religion is never acceptable

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In Vermont, a country inn declined to provide a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, the owner of a bed and breakfast refused a double room to a lesbian couple. Both said providing service would violate their religious faith.


More recently, a federal appeals court judge ruled that the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain may have the right, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse to include contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ health insurance plans. For some time now, pharmacists have asserted — and in many states won — the right to refuse to provide contraception based on religious grounds.

Refusal to serve — and using religion to discriminate — isn’t new. In the mid-1960s, Lester Maddox claimed biblical justification for his refusal to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, which he famously defended with ax handles in his campaign to become Georgia’s governor. Throughout the 19th century, women were refused entry to taverns, professions, and, really, to anything a proprietor decided to exclude them from. The second-class status of women was often, if not always, justified by biblical text.

What do these examples have in common? They all involve the entanglement, or disentanglement, of religion and commerce.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new benchmark was set for business behavior. Once you hung out your shingle, you could not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex, regardless of your religious justification or personal belief. Ironically, the re-emergence of attempts to claim constitutional protection for discriminators over those discriminated against is a measure of the success of the expanded vision of the women’s rights and gay rights movements.

Written By: Nancy K. Kaufman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. If you are a gay couple and you want a bed and breakfast room, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be at it like rabbits does it? You might just need somewhere to sleep. Isn’t that ok with a religious owner? Perhaps a silly example, but it shows what is going on in the minds of these owners.

    • In reply to #1 by bootjangler:

      If you are a gay couple and you want a bed and breakfast room, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be at it like rabbits does it?

      Gay rabbits?

      Perhaps a silly example, but it shows what is going on in the minds of these owners…

      Err …. (I need to get out more.)

      • In reply to #6 by old-toy-boy:

        In reply to #1 by bootjangler:

        If you are a gay couple and you want a bed and breakfast room, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be at it like rabbits does it?

        Gay rabbits?

        Perhaps a silly example, but it shows what is going on in the minds of these owners…

        Err …. (I need to get out more)

        On a whim I just did a Google search for gay rabbit and this came up in the first lot of results:

        Gay Rabbit God Temple

        Truth trumps fiction every time.

        Go 兔儿神, go 兔儿神, go 兔儿神…

      • In reply to #6 by old-toy-boy:

        In reply to #1 by bootjangler:

        If you are a gay couple and you want a bed and breakfast room, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be at it like rabbits does it?

        Gay rabbits?

        Perhaps a silly example, but it shows what is going on in the minds of these owners…

        Err …. (I need to get ou…

        This is under the useless trivia category, and has nothing to do with the story, but homosexuality is common in the other animals, not just humans. So yes, Gay Rabbits !!!

  2. That article was a bit tiresome to read. Way too much political silliness. IMO.

    I agree with the general gist of the article, I just cringe in many places.

    What I like about it is how it blames religion when religion is to blame.

  3. If they read their bibles and Qur’ans they probably are not supposed to serve unmarried couples, people of other faiths, blacks etc.

    Why do they pick on just gays? Where does it say in the bible you must refuse service to lesbians?

    • That’s because they’re ‘Buffet Christians’. Funny (not really) that other groups aren’t allowed to claim exemptions to laws like religion does. Racists could cry ‘Freedom of Association’ and fall under the same Constitutional rubric that the religious are claiming. Guess the judge doesn’t know the difference between a public business and someone’s private residence.

      In reply to #5 by Roedy:

      If they read their bibles and Qur’ans they probably are not supposed to serve unmarried couples, people of other faiths, blacks etc.

      Why do they pick on just gays? Where does it say in the bible you must refuse service to lesbians?

  4. Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happen to be run by members of a particular religious faith he doesn’t care for.

    Nine other members evidently thought this practice acceptable, as this was the number who liked the post, one of whom stayed signed in as they did so.

    • In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happen to be run by members of a particular religious faith he doesn’…

      Is this really a symmetrical comparison? A shopkeeper has the potential to discriminate against many customers, whereas if a few customers decide to discriminate against one shopkeeper, the economic damage is likely very small. It could also be argued that any profits from a business might be used in harmful ways a customer might not agree with, i.e., discriminating against others, supporting religion, etc. What would you tell poor Gandhi when he said to boycott British businesses? I think it is a fundamental right of all people to decide where they wish to spend their money. Should we allow shopkeepers to sue passing customers for failing to shop at his/her shop?

      • In reply to #15 by prietenul:

        In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

        Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happen to be run by members of a par…

        I’m not so sure I agree with you. Private businesses aren’t immune to the law, and if the law comes down against discrimination, then it seems reasonable to assume such discrimination could have repercussions. Even aside from the legal thing, the ethics behind it are shaky. Maybe business owners can choose whether or not they want to endorse or help promote any particular political, religious, or ethical view, but customers of any background are just customers, and what happens outside the business should stay outside the business. At the very least, most religious people are mainstream and unexceptionable.

    • In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happen to be run by members of a particular religious faith he doesn’…

      1) You are comparing apples to oranges. Offering services to the public while specifically excluding certain people is not the same thing as chosing where to spend one’s money. (To begin with, one of these activities is often restricted by law while the other is almost always protected by law.)

      2) Not to put to fine a point on it, but I don’t accept your characterization of this other poster’s point at face value. Can you link to it or say where to find it?

      I agree that refusing to patronize a business solely on the basis of the proprietors’ religious affiliation might be prejudiced behavior. But if one has specific disagreement with the actions of religious business owners (i.e. a catholic owned corporation which chooses to sue rather than comply with laws requireing them to fully insure their female employees) then withholding patronage would be defensible from my perspective. Without actually reading the comment, I can’t say whether I agree with your criticism.

  5. How long will it be before these troglodytes feel they can just go ahead and dust off those old signs that say shit like “No Coloreds or Jews Need Apply” and “Colored Seating in Back” and put them up in the windows of their shops, only pasting “Gay” or “Same-Sex Couples” over the other words.

    Same shit, different day.

  6. My first impulse was to say screw these businesses. I don’t want to patronize these narrow-minded bigots in the first place. But then , hey wait a minute there might be a constitutional issue here, but then, oh yeah, this is america so that argument is out.

  7. Both said providing service would violate their religious faith.

    Surely, waking every morning to be confronted by the reality of the world outside of your own noggin would violate your faith?

    Imbeciles.

  8. The USA is becoming less and less “the land of the free” every day. Between allowing religious bigotry and setting up the apparatus of Big Brother it will soon be a land of cringing cowards who’s only motivation is to be “safe”. Safe from terror, safe from truth, safe from virtue.

    • In reply to #18 by aquilacane:

      Shit, in 60′s Quebec, women couldn’t enter taverns without a male escort.

      They couldn’t enter period. And if they did, they weren’t really welcome and were expected to leave ASAP. Taverns in the 60′s Quebec were mainly drinking holes for blue collar workers who wanted to get away from their wives and kids.

  9. In reply to #19 by BanJoIvie:

    In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

    1) You are comparing apples to oranges. Offering services to the public while specifically excluding certain people is not the same thing as chosing where to spend one’s money. (To begin with, one of these activities is often restricted by law while the other is almost always protected by law.)

    Plenty of things are protected by law. That doesn’t make them right; just legal.

    2) Not to put to fine a point on it, but I don’t accept your characterization of this other poster’s point at face value. Can you link to it or say where to find it?

    I’m reluctant to do that as I have no wish to embarrass the individual in question. It was a pretty revolting comment though, and I’m not sure someone who takes the side of those engaged in ethnic cleansing is especially deserving of such considerations. He’s had more than a month to remove it and hasn’t, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over the matter. Here it is.

    I agree that refusing to patronize a business solely on the basis of the proprietors’ religious affiliation might be prejudiced behavior. But if one has specific disagreement with the actions of religious business owners (i.e. a catholic owned corporation which chooses to sue rather than comply with laws requireing them to fully insure their female employees) then withholding patronage would be defensible from my perspective. Without actually reading the comment, I can’t say whether I agree with your criticism.

    Oh absolutely. Boycotting a business because it takes a particular political stance you don’t agree with is fine. Boycotting on the basis of the proprietor’s religion alone is less acceptable.

    • In reply to #23 by Katy Cordeth:

      Plenty of things are protected by law. That doesn’t make them right; just legal.

      Agreed. And as I said, I think some discrimination by buyers can be ethically questionable. However the point I raised was not merely the law’s protections for a consumer, but that the law tends to treat the two situations you compare differently. There is a reason for the distinction, and it illustrates why I think your comparison does not really hold.

      It was a pretty revolting comment though

      Well, I’ve read it now…and the rest of that thread. Since it’s probably not a good idea to turn this thread into a discussion about another discussion thread. I’ll just say that the post you refer to does not make a very good case for the morality of a boycott. I’ll also mention that the post you critique is not the only one in the thread that…shall we say, goes a bit to far?

      Oh absolutely. Boycotting a business because it takes a particular political stance you don’t agree with is fine. Boycotting on the basis of the proprietor’s religion alone is less acceptable.

      Agreed. I wonder therefore if – rather than simply assuming the least sympathetic interpretation of someone’s words – it might not be important to plumb the specific reasons for and scope of someone’s buying decisions before condemning them in harsh and insulting terms.

  10. In reply to #15 by prietenul:

    In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

    Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happen to be run by members of a particular religious faith he doesn’…

    Is this really a symmetrical comparison? A shopkeeper has the potential to discriminate against many customers, whereas if a few customers decide to discriminate against one shopkeeper, the economic damage is likely very small. It could also be argued that any profits from a business might be used in harmful ways a customer might not agree with, i.e., discriminating against others, supporting religion, etc. What would you tell poor Gandhi when he said to boycott British businesses? I think it is a fundamental right of all people to decide where they wish to spend their money. Should we allow shopkeepers to sue passing customers for failing to shop at his/her shop?

    Please see my response to BanJolvie, below.

    Boycotts are an effective political tool. But refusing to give one’s business to someone solely because they happen to be wearing, say, a yarmulke, is… let’s say problematic.

    • In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #15 by prietenul:

      In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      Some non-believers are not above discriminating on the basis of religion. About a month ago someone posted a comment here at our little oasis in which he proudly boasted that he refused to offer his patronage to businesses if they happe…

      The shopper has the choice. That’s what capitalism is about. The supplier does not have that choice. If you hang out your shingle, you have to trade openly and fairly, and in the US anti trust laws have been in effect for generations. Most jurisdictions have similar rules, although they do in fact contradict the free market – but then so does monopoly. Anyhow, the state of play is that you can shop where you want, but you have to sell by non discriminatory rules.

      • In reply to #25 by Kevin Murrell:

        In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

        In reply to #15 by prietenul:

        Capitalism is not about choice. It’s about… capital. Specifically, using it to obtain more of it. Choice is only a temporary measure to avoid people preventing one doing that, and is minimised at every opportunity since this reduces costs, allows price increases, etc.

        Anti-discrimination laws are a form of regulation. If you can see why they are useful, you can start to see why regulation is useful and necessary. That’s why it’s not just racists who dislike them.

    • In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

      [...] refusing to give one’s business to someone solely because they happen to be wearing, say, a yarmulke, is… let’s say problematic.

      Show me someone who says explicitly that they refuse patronage to yarmulke wearers solely because of their garb, and I will join you in your condemnation. But if you point me to someone who says “I don’t shop at shop at Jewish businesses,” and I will ask questions first. I agree that such a statement raises ethical issues, but there is more than one possible interpretation of that phrase, and they aren’t all equally condemnable. Jumping to the least charitable version of another person’s position and attacking it is frowned upon in formal rhetoric. It’s also bad manners and stifles productive converstaion.

      In any case. There is a legal (and I think ethical) distinction between consumer choice (private) and business choice (public). So I think that discussion of the behavior of shoppers is tangential at best in a thread about the actions of business owners.

      • In reply to #32 by BanJoIvie:

        Show me someone who says explicitly that they refuse patronage to yarmulke wearers solely because of their garb, and I will join you in your condemnation.

        It may be somewhat irrational to boycott businesses based on what the owners wear , but are we supposed to set up ground rules for when it is acceptable or not to spend your own money where you please?

        • In reply to #33 by DHudson:

          In reply to #32 by BanJoIvie:

          It may be somewhat irrational to boycott businesses based on what the owners wear , but are we supposed to set up ground rules for when it is acceptable or not to spend your own money where you please?

          It depends what you mean by “set up ground rules.” If you mean pass laws and level punishments against certain buying choices, then my opinion is that we absolutely should NOT do that. But just because I think it would be a bad idea to criminalize or punish a given behavior does not mean I give up the right to condemn that same behavior as unethical; nor is it rationally inconsistent for me to hold those two positions.

  11. I’m slightly surprised to find that such discrimination is even legal in America.

    It is not in the UK and, as far as I know, throughout the 47 countries that signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Religious bigots have fought cases like this to the European Court of Human Rights, and have lost.

    Since the ECHR is closely modelled on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which America is a signatory I would have thought the same principles would apply?

    • In reply to #26 by Stevehill:

      My impression is that America does not, as a rule, adhere to international treaties unless it suits it to do so, signatory or not. The standard assumption is that everything that happens in the world is conditional on the US ruling class being OK with it.

      For an example of this attitude, have a look at this and consider what the reaction would be if China and North Korea held war games off the coast of Florida (or Cuba or Trinidad, for that matter) which included mock invasions, and then claimed that they were not meant to provoke the US.

      There has also been a marked decline in adherence since 9/11. It was lessened and became less flagrant under Obama, but some of the terrible practices instituted by Bush have continued, and a few have been expanded.

  12. As a professional, I find it a bit strange how some can so easily discriminate and shirk their professional responsibility under the guise of: “It’s against my religion”!

    Even slavery was once historically justified by Noah’s lineage and New Testament scripture when intolerant Christian “States Righters” unsheathed their swords to defend their Biblically supported religious interpretation of human bondage.

    People who purposefully shirk their professional responsibility by hiding behind the murky waters of “religious belief” make me sick!

  13. As a business its economically stupid to have personal prejudices against potential clients not to mention rude and humiliating to turn people away…But its their loss financially – ignorant bigots……No person would willingly want to be turned away from their holiday accommodation especially for prejudiced excuses…or you just wouldn’t book up in the first place…Gay people have probably compiled huge lists of such bigoted places to avoid…..

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