Apple Pie, Puppy Dogs, and Sunshine

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Those promoting a political idea usually sell it to the public by portraying it as pure wonderfulness. “We want apple pie, puppy dogs, and sunshine for everybody!” And really, who wouldn’t want that?

I thought that by now I would have finished with the recently-failed Arizona SB 1062 “religious freedom” bill — the subject of my previous essay in Liberty. But the reaction my opinion has received, from several people I know, makes me realize I’ve only scratched the surface of a deeper problem, one that is, in the long run, far more interesting. To those of us who love to watch political theater for the sheer entertainment of it all, the phenomenon is fascinating indeed.

As the state held its breath to see if the governor would sign or veto SB 1062, I sat in an ice cream parlor with some friends. Inevitably, the subject came up, and I gave my take on it. Across the table from me, my friend John underwent an amazing transformation. For a moment, I thought he was going to turn into the Incredible Hulk.

Leaning into his whipped cream, his eyes bulging and forehead arteries popping, he said, “It’s about religious freedom, okay?!”

Apple pie, puppy dogs, sunshine, and religious freedom for everybody. Okay? But where does this leave people who know there’s a poison pill inside that candy shell?

Issues are framed this way, by those who promote them, so that anyone who opposes them looks like the baseborn child of Snidely Whiplash and Tokyo Rose. I like John very much, so I didn’t want to leave him with that impression. “I don’t think the bill would really do what it’s claimed to be trying to do,” I said. And then I told him why.

We are not an unfeeling nation. We do a powerful lot of feeling. But that we do precious little thinking has become painfully obvious.

Three or four people — out of all the millions in this country — filed silly lawsuits against merchants who refused, “for religious reasons,” not to serve them. We would never accept the notion that because of what three or four heterosexuals did, all of them should be judged guilty. But that is exactly what was done here. And it is done to gays and other minorities all the time, and for no other reason, apparently, than because it can be.

How does that serve liberty? How is it possible, on such a basis, even to make an intelligent or responsible decision about legislation — which is itself government intrusion, no matter how attractively it’s packaged — that affects the lives of millions? Appeals to wield the club of government this way are nearly always made on the basis of raw emotion. A free people who would remain free would be wise to pause, breathe, and think about the issue in the light of fact.

John responded to my opinion not with reason but emotion. He may have thought he was giving me a reason — “religious freedom” — but I was not questioning whether that is a good thing. I was challenging whether religious freedom would best be served by the bill proposed. I thought the measure taken was too extreme to be warranted by the incidents that provoked it, which might better be addressed in other ways. And I thought that its passage would bring consequences not only unintended but undesirable.

As I suggested in my previous piece on the subject, we could reform the civil court system to discourage frivolous lawsuits. If we absolutely could not resist passing yet another law protecting religious freedom, we could include a clause requiring merchants who would refuse to serve certain patrons to post their policy publicly. Far better, we could sidestep government coercion altogether and encourage those who proudly serve all customers without bias to participate in a plan to publicize this. In Arizona, for example, businesses can take the Unity Pledge. As those wishing to refuse same-sex couples’ business for religious reasons have no justification for hiding their light under a bushel, it’s difficult to see why they would want to keep their convictions a secret.

Other people with whom I have discussed this legislation have responded the same way John did. Motivated by passion, they want to act on passion. On cue, everybody — feel, feel, feel!

I might suggest that we are not an unfeeling nation. We do a powerful lot of feeling. But that we do precious little thinking has become painfully obvious.

Majorities tend, all too often, to resort to brute force. They do it simply because they are the majority, so they can get away with it. This is behavior conducive not to liberty but to license. Those who worship the power of the state seem unable to distinguish between the two. Those who believe in liberty — if we would keep that liberty — would be wise to make the distinction.




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Comments

Scott Robinson

Dear Lori,

I hear your argument that we shouldn't use "religious freedom" or other lofty ideals as cover for our choices. Liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. However, I do see problems with the statement that I can't choose to not engage in business with you for whatever evil opinion I might have of you. The point is "my business my choice." What if we extended this to sex? If somebody wants to have sex with you, you have to have sex with them. Otherwise you are being discriminatory. I say that discrimination is good; I make a choice (liberty), and I reap what I sow (responsibility). You might not like my choices, but you don't have the right to force me to choose to your liking. Forcing people to choose what they don't want is where you get the tyranny of the majority which you referenced.

Have a Good Day,
Scott

P.S. My sign-off is legit, I'm not just saying it as canned niceness.

Lori Heine

I quite agree that anybody has the right not to trade with me for any reason. Those who've chosen not to trade with same-sex couples, however, wish to make quite an issue of it. I still don't see how their wish to remain anonymous about that is at all consistent with their trumpeted desire to save the souls of the sinful.

Why should I not be warned of this great menace to my eternal salvation? Is that not the point of slamming the shop door in my face to begin with?

I certainly proposed other possible options besides inserting a clause mandating a warning. And of course, any business that chooses to make an issue of its sterling Christian morality in refusing to serve same-sex couples will see that stand publicized, whether it wishes that this happen or not.

I think Christian morality has little to do with what's going on here. I think it's being used as an excuse. As I no more wish to give bigots my money than they desire to take it, the arrangement can be congenially worked out to my satisfaction -- and to that of just about all the gays in the country, save the handful who chose to file silly lawsuits.

My heart is hardly broken because some people don’t want to serve me. But just as they’re entitled to express their opinion that I’m a sinner, I’m entitled to express mine that they are hypocrites and cowards.

Scott Robinson

I agree that people should not be sheltered from their own opinions. However, they should not be exposed as hypocrites by government (force). Your comments about they should be publicized and exposed calls to my mind how Germany during the 1930's did forcing everybody to wear a colored ribbon which labeled them as the type of person they were, Jewish, Slavic, Scandinavian, etc. That is why I find the government outing the people wrong. If you don't like the opinion of others, you need to get your bullhorn and go out into public voicing your opinion so that we all can hear your opinion. Just like they should not be sheltered from exposure of their opinion courtesy of government, you should not be sheltered from exposure of your opinion and absolved of your responsibility courtesy of government.

Best Wishes,
Scott

Geezer

If a man and a woman ask a church organist to perform a Black Mass they plan to celebrate, and he politely declines, is he refusing to serve a heterosexual couple? Or declining to provide his services for a particular kind of event?

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought the baker, the florist, and the photographer of recent fame did not refuse to serve same-sex couples; they declined to provide their services for a particular kind of event.

If the baker, the florist, and the photographer can be properly labeled as bigots, might the organist be so labeled as well? If not, why not?
----
By the way, this is the first I have heard that any of the accused expressed a "desire to save the souls of the sinful," or that they, rather than the complainants, "wish[ed] to make quite an issue of it." Citations to the sources for such claims would be helpful.

Richard Massey

I am all for religious freedom and all other kinds of freedom. If I put up the capital, build a facility, buy product and hire and pay the employees all with my own money I should have the right to serve or not serve whomever I want. It is up to the customers to decide whether they want to support my bigotry or not. This is true freedom.

Franklin

"I thought that by now I would have finished with the recently-failed Arizona SB 1062 'religious freedom' bill — the subject of my previous essay in Liberty. But the reaction my opinion has received, from several people I know, makes me realize I’ve only scratched the surface of a deeper problem..."
One reason, Lori, is that your surface-scratching is itching over symptoms and picking at the issue in all ways except the one that constitutes the foundation of libertarianism -- property rights. Court reform, by the way, is nothing more than substantiation and expansion of the state's monopoly power -- the state's determination of what constitutes good or bad complaints. And a requirement that merchants publically post their prejudice? Who's going to administer that? Hell, I thought the mandated New York restaurant-window grade postings were bad enough. You continue to walk down a path that distances yourself from liberty with every step, rather than let the market work. And if it won't work, then there's no hope for humanity -- all the laws from now till doomsday will be for naught.
The critics of the veto are likewise defining the actions in terms or "religiosity" or lack thereof. Most of them, too, are skittish with the notion of property. Meanwhile, don't expect the governor to tout that angle either, nor would any politician; they survive and thrive on the nonsense that a flag-stuck-in-the-ground means they own every inch of the soil you and I walk upon.
The worship of state power, in this case, is illustrated by the majority _and_ the minority, implying that this incessant argumentation and contortion of "law" is here for a while, unless we can respect a person's choice of association on that person's property, even when it is abhorrent to us.
A final nit: nations do not feel. Until the idea of a collective (having a thinking and cognitive heart and soul) is utterly dismissed, then respect for any individual (minority or majority) shall take the back seat.

Johnimo

It's not just about religious freedom, it's also about freedom of speech, as today's excellent article at cato.org points out. However, I agree that the Arizona law may not have been the best way to approach the issue. I hope the Supreme Court will take the Elane Photography v. Willock case from New Mexico and rule in favor of Elaine Photography, setting most of this nonsense to rest. We don't really need any new laws, just a reaffirmation of our first amendment right to exercise our judgement in deciding what we want to do.

There is no lack of public accommodations for gays as there was in the government-sanctioned, separate but equal South for blacks. Restaurants, churches, swimming pools, and public schools are open to everyone. Surely one bakery that says "No" leaves hundreds that say "Yes." Bus drivers don't direct gays to the back of the bus.

Love your Libertarian slant on the issues that interest you. Keep up the good work.

Lori Heine

I won’t reply to each comment separately, because that makes it look like a lot more people are commenting than actually are, and I don’t like to do that. But I do want to say a few words.

Johnimo is sensible, as usual. Some of the other comments, I don’t quite understand.

Though I made it quite clear, in my essay, that I disagreed with those who sued merchants for refusing to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds, people are acting as if I trumpeted ardent support for it. This strikes me as very strange.

I mentioned the Unity Pledge, which is a libertarian concept if there ever was one, and the one I personally recommend. Everybody who commented completely ignored it.

The thesis of my essay is certainly borne out in most of the comments. Feel, feel, feel. Libertarians are supposed to be reasonable, thoughtful, reflective people, but at least in some cases, if you sprinkle around enough emotional fairy-dust about liberty and freedom – even connected to schemes that show no evidence they would further liberty or freedom – they’re in with both feet.

As for my calling those who want to refuse service for purportedly religious reasons – but who don’t want anybody to know they’re doing it – hypocrites, cowards and bigots, well, what about that free speech thing they say they like so well? How’s that working out when somebody uses it to say something they don’t like? Freedom of speech is protected in this country not so much for the sake of the things people might say that are popular, but for those that aren’t.

And the very reason expressly given, by the merchants who refused to serve same-sex couples, was that they objected because of their religious convictions. Otherwise, those refused the service never would have known why they were being refused. Had the merchants not wanted this to be known by their un-friended clients, they could have told them they were booked up that week, or even that they simply didn’t want to do the job – something that would have been legally permissible almost anywhere. If it’s okay for those refused service to know about these Christian scruples, why shouldn’t the public also hear of it?

In my home state, Arizona, moreover, it is already perfectly legal to discriminate against gay people for any reason under the sun, moon and stars. Nor did any of the handful of silly lawsuits that precipitated this panic happen in Arizona. I’m still waiting to hear why the government had to do something (extra) about this here.

I suppose big government action is a bad thing. Except when it’s a good one. Feel, feel, feel…

Geezer

If affirming the notion that anyone has an unfettered right not to trade with anyone else for any reason is the beginning and end of a libertarian discussion of the subject, why all the extraneous blather? Perhaps the kosher butcher who refuses to sell me a pound of bacon for purportedly religious reasons is a hypocrite, a coward, and a bigot. Perhaps not.

Ms Heine seems to be either unwilling or unable to discern the difference between:
  • refusing to serve a particular kind of person and refusing to service a particular kind of event,
  • an act of aggression and an act of defense,
  • a law that expands the scope of governmental coercion and a law that contracts it,
  • a perpetrator and a victim of coercion, intolerance, or intimidation.

The bulk of Ms Heine’s writing, especially the sophomoric “feel, feel, feel” mantra she likes to repeat, seems more akin to psychological projection than to rational discourse.

Lori Heine

I notice you still refuse to answer the essential question my "sophomoric" essays ask.

Why was big government action (another law) necessary to accomplish "unfettered trade" in a state that already allows it? Moreover, in a state in which none of the events cited to justify the bill occurred?

I am fully cognizant of the difference between serving a particular person or serving an event. I believe (as I have said repeatedly) that a merchant has the right to refuse to do either.

I understand the difference between acts of aggression and acts of defense. I still have received no explanation as to why further government action was necessary to facilitate what could already legally be done.

I appreciate the difference between a law that expands government coercion and one that contracts it. But when there has been no such coercion in my state, I question why a law (which would be largely enacted as political theater, to deal with a fictitious situation) is needed.

Nor do I get how somebody who imagines they might become a victim of coercion needs to pass a law to deal with something that has not happened, and shows no evidence that it will happen.

Again, Geezer, I find it significant that you refuse to even mention the other options I suggested in my essay. What's wrong with reforming the civil courts to discourage frivolous lawsuits? What's wrong with an entirely-voluntary pledge to serve everybody, enabling patrons to find merchants who will serve them and avoid those who won’t?

What I consider sophomoric is selectively editing one's response to another's speech by simply refusing to deal with the totality of what was said.

You appear to be attempting to pass off an irrational and emotion-driven argument by trying to make it sound libertarian. You and I will simply need to agree to disagree.

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