Artisan Bread vs. Gay Wedding Cakes: Rights, Responsibilities, and Just Leaving People Alone

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In light of a city ordinance recently passed in Houston, people are talking again about the rights of homosexuals to marry people with the same genitalia versus the rights of religious people to not have to celebrate, advocate, support, or pay for such things. My feelings on the matter can be summed up with the following statement:

I do not have the right to refuse to do business with someone based upon her or his ethnicity, beliefs, associations, or lifestyle. I do have the right – and the responsibility – to refuse to do business with anyone who is asking me to do something that requires me to directly celebrate, advocate, support, or participate in a practice or event that I find to be morally wrong, regardless of its legality or official status. If I make no effort to refuse, I am a hypocrite, and those with opposing viewpoints will be happy to remind me of the fact. In short, I cannot refuse service based on who you are, but I can refuse service based on what you are asking me to do.

This can get tricky, of course, but as people with different lifestyles and worldviews come in contact with each other in business scenarios, I actually think we can draw a pretty clear line between where the rights of one party end and where the rights of the other party begin. Here are some examples:

Scenario #1: Ashley the Environmentalist
a) Ashley runs a bakery and catering service. She refuses to offer food produced from GMOs because she feels that GMOs are unhealthy and harmful to the environment. She has been criticized for this because, while it has been proven that some GMOs can be harmful, there is little reason to believe that all are categorically harmful. She is undeterred by such criticisms, however. She believes that GMOs are evil, and she will hold to her values. When a local agricultural lobbyist group requests that she cater an event in which the benefits of GMOs will be discussed, she refuses to participate. Should she legally be allowed to do this? Yes.
b) Ashley is asked to cater for a church function. She finds out that the function is called Defending the Traditional Family: What You Can Do to Protect America’s Future. Being a staunch advocate of homosexual unions, she decides that she does not want to be affiliated with this event, and so she refuses to cater. Should she legally be allowed to do this? Yes.
c) A man comes into Ashley’s bakery and tries to buy some rolls. She recognizes that he is a member of the church mentioned previously. She tells him that she will not sell him anything and demands that he leave her establishment at once. Should she legally be allowed to do this? No.

Scenario #2: Paul the Libertarian
a) Paul runs a printing and embroidery business. He puts logos on caps, bags, mugs, etc. A member of the local Communist Party tries to order hundreds of signs and T-shirts for a Full Communism Now protest coming up. Paul refuses to participate because he feels that it would undermine his basic beliefs. Should he legally be allowed to do this? Yes.
b) Paul used to be a Scientologist, but he is not a Scientologist anymore, and he actually harbors strong distaste for everything Scientology stands for. A man comes in to order some items with his daughter’s image on them to celebrate her birthday. Paul recognizes this man as a Scientologist and refuses to do anything for him. Should he legally be allowed to do this? No.
c) A local Scientology leader tries to order some printed materials to promote the ideals of Scientology. Paul refuses to serve him. Should he legally be allowed to do this? Yes.

Scenario #3: Anita the Pacifist
a) Anita owns various rental and hospitality properties, such as apartments and hotels. As she is adamantly opposed to all wars, if she finds that a rental applicant was once in the armed forces, she categorically denies the application. Should she legally be able to do this? No.
b) An organization that openly supports an ongoing war requests to rent out Anita’s hotel to use it as a conference. She refuses. Should she legally be able to do this? Yes.
c) A black man applies to live in one of Anita’s apartments. The last black man who lived in one of Anita’s apartments left it damaged and full of cockroaches. For that reason, she denies the application. Should she legally be able to do this? No.
d) The New Black Panthers request to rent out Anita’s hotel for a conference. She disapproves of how the group’s leaders encourage the murder of white people. She refuses. Should she legally be able to do this? Yes.

Scenario #4: Jeremiah the Christian
a) Like Ashley, Jeremiah runs a bakery and catering service. A man whom he knows to be a Satanist comes in and tries to buy some artisan bread. Jeremiah refuses to take his money and orders the man to leave immediately. Should he legally be able to do this? No.
b) Jeremiah is asked to provide catering for a worship event at the local Satanic temple. He knows that this would require him to have a somewhat intimate involvement with teachings and practices that he firmly disagrees with. He refuses. Should he legally be able to do this? Yes.
c) A couple of men come into Jeremiah’s bakery and try to buy a birthday cake. Judging by their behavior, he guesses that they are probably homosexuals. He tells them that the cakes they see are for display only and that he will not be selling any more today. He then asks them to leave. Should he legally be able to do this? No.
d) A man tries to order a wedding cake and catering for a wedding. After asking about the details of the event, Jeremiah finds out that the wedding will be for three men who want to be regarded as spouses. Jeremiah refuses to participate. “I’m not putting three men on top of a wedding cake,” he says. Should he legally be able to do this? Yes.

I am a Latter-day Saint – a “Mormon”. As such, I belong to a social minority group that is, statistically, more hated than homosexuals and any given ethnic group, though still less hated than atheists and Muslims. I do not claim to have a dramatic life story of overcoming institutionalized oppression, but I have certainly faced my fair share of misinformation, prejudice, and hate. Even though it is illegal, interviewers, responding to clues, have asked me about my religion in every job interview I’ve ever had. A lot of those jobs went to someone else. I cannot say it was because of my religion, but I cannot say it was not. I have had plenty of people tell me I will burn in hell for eternity for believing in things like extra-Biblical scripture, continuing revelation, modern prophets, and the divine nature of humans. I realize the world is full of hate. I have seen it, and I will never simply accept it as an unavoidable reality. However, I remain convinced that, if you think that anyone who disagrees with you is categorically a bigot, you are probably a bigot. I also remain convinced that, while a certain level of legal intervention should be used to guard against institutionalized prejudice, it is often counter-productive to try to force people into accepting those who are different. As a Latter-day Saint, I know that, if a particular business owner refuses to work with me due to my faith, I could seek recourse through legal channels, but I probably will not. Instead of trying to force him to take my money, I will be happy to take my business somewhere else.

Some would compare the refusal of Christian businesses to become active participants in homosexual weddings to practices formerly common in the southern United States, where businesses either provided separate facilities for white and black patrons or denied service to black patrons altogether. This issue was hotly debated decades ago, with even those who hated the practice sometimes not knowing how to feel about it. It was argued that businesses that denied service to black patrons paid for their prejudice with lost revenues. Despite the controversy, our government finally did get involved, and I feel that the right choices were made. That situation, however, was different from the current situation with homosexuals in various ways, including the following:

  1. Ubiquity. One of the issues that tipped the scales in the Civil Rights Movement was that, for all intents and purposes, black people were being shut out not just from specific businesses, but from the entirety of mainstream society, with all of the businesses in certain locales working together to maintain a solid curtain of separation. In Alabama or Mississippi in the 1930s, even if a white restaurant owner wanted to admit black patrons, he could not break ranks in such a way for fear of being persecuted by the KKK. This is not a real fear today when it comes to homosexuals. If a bakery does not want to put three men on top of your wedding cake, you can almost always go a few streets over and get someone else to do it without any problem. In fact, in such instances, the bakeries in question have shown a tendency to provide lists of competitors who would be happy to make said wedding cakes.
  2. Hate. The laws and cultural practices referenced here are indicative of a general feeling of hatred for an entire race of people, making assumptions about them regardless of their choices in life. However, while hatred for homosexuals certainly exists, to say that all people who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle and prefer not to celebrate it in any way are categorically haters is itself a bigoted statement. As a Latter-day Saint, I absolutely believe that fornication is a grievous sin. Many of my friends do not feel that way. We are still friends. I do not hate people for being fornicators. I believe that engaging in homosexual relations amounts to a sin comparable to heterosexual relations outside of marriage. Similarly, I do not hate people who have homosexual tendencies, whether they act on those tendencies or not. I do feel that it is wrong for them to give in to those tendencies, and I will not be involved with the celebration of such sin any more than I will be involved with the celebration of heterosexual fornication. Unlike those who supported the institutional disenfranchisement of black people decades ago, I still associate with the demographic in question. I just disagree with them. I do not object to the entirety of their existence: I object to specific things that they do. I refuse to clap and sing when I see them doing things that I feel will ultimately frustrate their development as eternal beings.
  3. Nature. Ethnicity is something that people are born into: one does not choose it, and it in no way reflects any kind of decision. Conversely, people are not born homosexual. I know, I know: it’s a matter of intense debate. But when there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that they are born that way, and when many prominent homosexuals plainly say that their own sexuality is an adaptation rather than a genetic trait, you have to at least be open to the possibility. Even if it is a matter of genetic identity, though, bear in mind that there is absolutely no scenario in which people like myself would object to doing business with someone like Josh Weed, who openly admits to being “gay” but is still quite happily married to a woman. If there is a “gay gene”, Josh Weed definitely has it. But if I hate everyone with the “gay gene”, shouldn’t I hate Josh Weed? (I don’t.)

It is true that, by starting a business, one must accept the fact that one is becoming part of a complex social web that is full of people with different values and viewpoints. It is neither reasonable nor right to expect to be able to completely separate oneself from those with whom one disagrees. And yet, under no circumstances should the system force people to become direct participants of movements that are contrary to their most cherished values. And here is a key issue to bear in mind: Even if a Christian business owner were to make cakes for homosexual weddings due to his belief that he does not have the right to refuse, any vocal opposition he might make to the official institution of homosexual unions after that would be greeted with hostility and claims of hypocrisy from the same people who would object to him refusing to bake said cakes. “You support homosexual marriage as long as it puts money in your pocket!” they would say. “Hypocrite!” they would say. “You should have told us how you felt! We would have been happy to give our money to someone else!” Thus, while Christianity quite clearly does not leave room for the advocacy of homosexual unions, any Christian who opposes homosexual unions is doomed to be branded a hypocrite, regardless of the level at which he voices this opposition.

I do not seek to force anyone into anything. I do not seek to lynch, imprison, fine, disenfranchise, or demonize anyone. I do not seek to cast anyone out from society altogether. I simply wish to be allowed to believe what I believe without being forced into celebrating that which I think is sinful. As a Latter-day Saint, I think it is wrong for businesses to deny me service based on my faith, but I will voice no legal objections if business owners with a negative view of my faith decide to refuse service within the context of a Latter-day Saint event or initiative that celebrates, advocates, or funds something that they disagree with on a moral level. I feel that this is a reasonable standard, and I only ask advocates of homosexual unions to be similarly reasonable.

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Pro-Life and Pro-Death Penalty: No, Not a Contradiction

In a recent article on CNN, Carol Costello points out what she and many others think is a glaring contradiction among conservatives in the United States: the act of supporting both legal limitations on abortion and the use of capital punishment in first-degree murder cases. According to them, if you value life so much that you would deprive a woman of her right to choose what happens to her own body, you should not be so keen on killing people when you could just put them in prison until they die. Specifically responding to the positions of a Republican politician, Costello writes:

So, Rep. Christian says it’s OK to kill, unless you’re a woman who wants to end her pregnancy?
As I told my friends during a heated debate last weekend, that smacks of hypocrisy.

I am reminded of something someone else said to me once: “It doesn’t make sense to use killing as a way of showing people that killing is wrong.” Both of these statements, though, have glaring problems. For starters, they suggest that those of us who support capital punishment are supportive of killing in general, which we are not. Yes, we do think that certain very specific people should be killed under very specific circumstances, but that does not mean we think “it’s OK to kill”, as if we were fighting for our right to hack up our neighbors for little or no reason. The straw-man nature of this argument is so obvious as to be borderline maniacal. Also, from the side of the person being killed, if one cannot see the difference between killing a baby and killing a mass murderer, it may be that any and all discussion on the matter is of no use.

One fundamental problem with Costello’s argument, aside from its straw-man nature, is that it lacks a basic recognition of the concepts of law and criminal justice. Those who oppose capital punishment do so based on the belief that the right to live is a basic human right and that all instances of capital punishment are therefore crimes against humanity. What they fail to realize, though, is that virtually all instances of criminal justice constitute the limitation or revocation of what would normally constitute a basic right. For instance, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Is not confinement to a prison an abrogation of the basic right to liberty? Certainly, it is. If our government were to go about nabbing innocent people from the street and throwing them in prison, we would be outraged. When society discovered that Ariel Castro was holding women hostage in his Cleveland home, we were similarly outraged, and we responded by sentencing him to life in prison without the chance of parole, plus 1,000 years. Did anyone cry out about the abrogation of Ariel Castro’s basic human rights? There was not a peep.

As another example of basic rights, consider Article 17 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Naturally, if our government were to go about seizing people’s houses and other assets without giving any kind of payment, we would see this as an abuse of power and a lack of respect for basic human rights. And yet, when Bernard L. Madoff was convicted of investment fraud in 2009, in addition to getting a prison term, was he not ordered to pay billions of dollars in restitution as well? Did we feel that this judgment violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in any way? It would be a violation of human rights for government entities to go around forcibly divesting people of their wealth. It was allowable in the case of Madoff, though, because he was guilty of a crime.

It is one of the most basic tenets of criminal justice: let the punishment fit the crime. This tends to mean meting out punishment similar to the harm caused by the perpetrator. Imprison others, and you will be imprisoned. Cheat others out of their assets, and we will appropriate your assets. Why, then, do some feel it sinister or contradictory to punish premeditated murder with the death penalty? Certainly, it would be “cruel and unusual” to feed perpetrators to lions in a public arena, but rewarding the most malicious and dangerous villains of our society with a quick death behind closed doors is not at all unreasonable or inhumane.

When society imprisons the Ariel Castros of the world, is it because we disregard freedom, or because we value it? When society fines the Bernard Madoffs of the world, is it because we disregard property rights, or because we value them? When society decides to kill the Clayton Locketts of the world, is it because we lack ample value for life, or is it because we value life immensely, such that we are willing to spend egregious amounts of time and money to protect the innocent from predators? Is it a greater injustice to kill mass murderers or to inter them in “prisons” where the conditions are so good that their greatest complaint is the low quality of the video games?

Certainly, any government that applies or condones the death penalty in the case of “crimes” such as apostasy, homosexuality, adultery, or speaking against the regime is overstepping bounds and committing atrocities against the basic rights of its citizens. It is similarly unreasonable to apply the death penalty to most legitimate crimes like fraud, theft, assault, or even manslaughter. But in cases of premeditated, malicious murder, the punishment does, in fact, fit the crime. Those who want to avoid such a barbaric punishment are compelled to avoid the barbaric actions that make it necessary. As for the supposed contradiction this view poses for moderate pro-life advocates like myself, I feel that my views are actually quite consistent. Because I value freedom, I feel that those who rob others of their freedom should lose their own. Because I value the free market, I feel that those who destroy it with fraud and theft should lose their wealth. Because I value life, I feel that the death penalty should be reserved only for those who have deprived themselves of their right to live by taking the lives of others. Because I value life, I feel that abortion should be allowed only in cases of medical emergency (because it is better for one person to die than for two people to die) or rape (in which case the blood is on the hands of the rapist). A contradiction seems to arise only when we ignore either the guilt and danger of murderers or the innocence and humanity of babies. As humanity and justice are inseparably connected, by favoring one of these things over the other, we run the risk of betraying both.