The Right To Refuse Service

‘Right to Refuse Service’ is being used in defense of the Indiana legislature’s controversial ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’

It’s been argued by some that the age-old ‘Right to Refuse Service’ is a defense for the Indiana legislature’s attempt at passing their controversial ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’. Well, those people are wrong.

The ‘Right to Refuse Service’ was not put in place to allow business owners to refuse serving someone based on religion, race, sexual orientation, gender or disability. It does however allow them to refuse service to anyone causing a disruption in service, damage to property or threatening the safety of others. In other words, if someone’s actions pose a direct threat to other patrons, employees or the flow of daily business, then they can be asked to leave. Such as an aggressive drunk at a bar.

A business owner cannot ask someone to leave only because they may disagree with that person’s lifestyle. They can however ask someone to leave if they’re not wearing shoes. The former is discrimination, the latter is a health concern.

And can we please stop with the ‘dick cake’ argument already? Folks have used this argument ad nauseam trying to defend the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’. The scenario that keeps getting volleyed goes like this:

A gay couple walks into a bakery and asks for a cake shaped like a penis. The bakery refuses. Can the bakery be sued?

OK, first of all since when is it a gay exclusivity to buy penis-shaped cakes? It is by far more popular in the world of middle-American bachelorette parties (along with penis-shaped lollipops and tiaras). That aside, if the sole reason for refusing to make the cake is that the bakery just doesn’t make those kinds of cakes, then there is no discrimination. However, if the bakery refuses to make the cake solely on the basis that a customer is gay, yet has already taken three orders for dick cakes from other customers, then yes it is discrimination.

The issue of dress codes has come up in this debate, too. Again, there are faults in the argument. If a restaurant refuses service to a man for wearing sweats despite a posted dress code, that is not discrimination. If, however that restaurant refuses to seat a couple that are following the proper dress code but happened to be mentally or physically handicapped, that is discrimination.

As a customer, you cannot sue a place for simply refusing you service. It has to be plainly evident that they did so in a way that violated your civil rights.

Now comes the tricky part. Another popular argument is the one in which the gay owner of a print shop refuses to print “God Hates Fags” on signs for the Westboro Baptist Church because he disagrees with their stance. Would he be violating their civil rights? As hard as it is for me to say this, yes he would be.

If you’re against Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’, you have to accept that freedom can be a tough nut to crack because it may mean defending things that make your skin crawl. The truth is, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t stop one group’s discriminatory practices while supporting any other group’s discriminatory practices. It’s really that simple.

OK, it’s not simple. Like I said, freedom is tough. But until we accept the difficulties of freedom, we’re not worthy of benefiting from it.

Will this law pass in Indiana? Probably not. Cooler heads will prevail. Still, it is scary that this was even proposed. What’s scarier though are the many forms of protest that only reenforce the bigotry of the initial act.

Businesses refusing to serve groups they suspect to be bigots will not solve the issue of discrimination. It feeds into it. And as we spiral backward thru time and sensibility, we gradually lose freedom. So gradually that we barely notice it. Until it’s gone. Until some political leaders somewhere step up and propose a bill that would allow certain businesses to legally discriminate against people for being different.

This is not fiction people, it’s happening. It’s up to us to stop it and the only way to do that is to allow the spirit of our ‘Declaration of Independence’ to finally and fully come to fruition. How hard is that? Well, considering the drafters of the phrase, “All men are created equal,” were themselves slave owners, I’d say it’s pretty hard.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. We as a nation have made — and continue to make — great strides in civil rights. Let’s not slide back now. Let’s not have our differences spawn hatred that can only harm us as a people.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Everyone is different. Let’s learn from that, not fear it.


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