Recently, Politico reported that New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett would refuse to pay his Party dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) because the NRCC recruits and supports gay Republican candidates.
Needless to say, Garrett set off a firestorm. Commenting on Garrett’s decision, the NJ Star-Ledger editorialized that Congressman Scott Garrett takes his bigotry out of the closet. After noting that “U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett signed on to a measure that would allow private firms to deny service at gay weddings if doing so would offend their religious sensibilities,” the Star-Ledger wrote:
The debate often focuses on fake cover stories, like Garrett's claim that denying services to gay wedding is about religious freedom.
The law threads that needle by making a distinction between private behavior and public. A house of worship is generally free to discriminate, as are private clubs. But when a business opens its doors to the public, the standards are different. And for good reason. Imagine an America where each merchant on a street was free to exclude his least favorite group.
I left these Comments, edited for clarity:
I agree with the Star-Ledger’s assessment of Garrett’s comments and religious discrimination against gays as bigotry. But that’s where my agreement ends.
It’s true that, as the Star-Ledger observes, “The religion card . . . is sometimes used [as] a cover for a more ugly motivation -- flat-out bigotry against gays.” But is that a reason to force a private firm to serve a gay wedding against the business owner’s convictions, however immoral? Absolutely not.
The distinction between private and public behavior is artificial and itself discriminatory. Why are the rights of members of private churches and private clubs to be free to discriminate protected, but not owners of private businesses? Are businessmen somehow morally forbidden to act on their convictions? Are businessmen second-class citizens? The right to associate or not associate is a fundamental individual right, and you don’t forfeit your rights by opening a business—not if equal protection means anything.
The last sentence in the above quote is an utterly absurd application of the principle of Reductio Ad Absurdum. The implication is that if people were “free to exclude his least favorite group,” everyone would do so. But, when does everyone think the same, especially when it comes to irrational ideas? There is no evidence of such widespread bigotry. Indeed, such widespread acceptance of bigotry implies a culture incapable of electing legislators who would enact laws against discrimination. In a culture so accepting of bigotry, we never would have had acceptance of interracial marriage; or a mixed race president; or passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other civil rights acts; or have gotten rid of Jim Crow and the Separate-but-Equal doctrine.
The truth is the opposite.
Since World War II, bigotry in American culture has steadily eroded in the face of social activism. Back then, bigotry was routine, not worthy of making news. In America today, a single bigoted statement or act routinely triggers instant, broad public denunciation from virtually all population sectors. Famous, popular celebrities lose their jobs and even careers, by such pronouncements. Recall the Indiana legislature rushing to change a “religious freedom law” appearing to target gays, under pressure of nationwide condemnation. Observe the reaction to Garrett’s bigotry, which wasn’t even a public pronouncement. Today, overt bigotry is news, because it is rare.
The logical outcome of removing anti-discrimination laws against the private sector—fully and equally protecting the right to freedom of association—would not be broad discrimination by merchants. The result would be that private enterprises that practice irrational discrimination would likely be put out of business through boycotts and/or competition. Even those that survive would be isolated and marginalized, harming no one but themselves and their reputations. Bigotry is not only irrational and immoral, it is economically stupid to send potential customers to a competitor simply because of their sexual orientation, skin color, or other economically irrelevant reasons. Advocates of anti-discrimination laws against private citizens amounts to the implication that irrationalism would win in a free society, because there are no rational arguments against bigotry. In truth, in a free society, reason will, over time, always win out against unreason. The very fact of widespread public support for anti-private discrimination laws—misguided though they are—is proof that such laws are not needed to defeat bigotry. Such laws could never get passed in a culture that didn’t already have bigotry on the run.
As I observed in a detailed post on the gay marriage/religious freedom issue, “This issue is not primarily about freedom of religion and conscience; rather, it is about freedom of association and contract.” It is just as wrong to legally force private business owners to serve gay weddings against their religious convictions as it was to impose anti-gay religious standards on America by legally banning gay marriage. This is about equal treatment under the law, nothing more.
There is another, more insidious side effect to anti-discrimination laws targeting the private sector; the effect of driving bad ideas or opinions underground, where they can fester and metastasize
Consider Prohibition, which didn’t eliminate the alcoholic beverage industry but drove it underground, where a growing underworld crime culture captured the business. It’s better to leave people free to discriminate, and then challenge the bigots openly in the public marketplace of ideas. Only intellectual opposition can expose and eliminate bad ideas through education on better ideas. That can best happen when ideas are aired openly rather than driven underground.
Better to leave private individuals free to discriminate, as is their right, thus exposing them to public scrutiny, than to force bigots to act against their convictions, allowing irrationality and bitterness to fester and grow undetected and unchallenged.
'Religious Freedom Restoration' Laws and Tim Cook's Misunderstanding of America's Founding Principles
Gay Marriage: The Right to Voluntary Contract, Not to Coercive “Contract”