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Opinion Principles vs. entitlements bad for business

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This famous George Orwell line was written as satire but has been accepted as a truism by many.

The latest contest in the equality game pits religious orientation versus sexual orientation. Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Christian photographer convicted of violating the state's anti-discrimination law. As a matter of religious principle, Elaine Huguenin and her husband declined the request to photograph the commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. The lesbian couple got another photographer and the Huguenins got the tab for thousands of dollars in court costs.

Influenced by events in New Mexico, the Arizona legislature this year passed SB1062 that was subsequently vetoed by their governor. The bill would have enhanced the ability to make business decisions based on religious convictions. Though issues of sexual orientation were not mentioned in the wording of the bill, nevertheless, it was framed by the national media as anti-gay legislation. Also, at times it was described as a “religious liberty” issue. Currently, there are numerous states that have proposed laws similar to the Arizona model.

George Hasara“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This famous George Orwell line was written as satire but has been accepted as a truism by many.

The latest contest in the equality game pits religious orientation versus sexual orientation. Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Christian photographer convicted of violating the state's anti-discrimination law. As a matter of religious principle, Elaine Huguenin and her husband declined the request to photograph the commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. The lesbian couple got another photographer and the Huguenins got the tab for thousands of dollars in court costs.

Influenced by events in New Mexico, the Arizona legislature this year passed SB1062 that was subsequently vetoed by their governor. The bill would have enhanced the ability to make business decisions based on religious convictions. Though issues of sexual orientation were not mentioned in the wording of the bill, nevertheless, it was framed by the national media as anti-gay legislation. Also, at times it was described as a “religious liberty” issue. Currently, there are numerous states that have proposed laws similar to the Arizona model.

In the above examples the common thread is the premise that groups possess special rights that individuals don't have. There are two fundamental ways of perceiving what constitutes a right. One approach is viewing rights as the right to do what you want as long as it doesn't interfere with someone else's right to do the same. The other viewpoint is that people are entitled or have rights to things that can include education, employment, medical care, photography services, allowances for religious beliefs, etc. In the second example, the right to have something must be accompanied by a obligation of someone else to provide it. In this view of rights as entitlements, enters the notion that certain governmental defined and sanctioned groups deserve special legal and legislative protection.

I could be “denied” employment because of the way I comb, or more accurately, the way I don't comb my hair. Disheveled hair is not a protected group. To discriminate on the basis of hairstyle may be arbitrary, foolish or even mean-spirited, but it is not, nor should it be, illegal. Nor should conducting one’s business in ways other than the accepted “norm,” be criminalized. Overlooked in the whole equation is that most discriminatory commerce practices are totally legal. While a business owner can be forced to trade with someone, a customer is usually under no such obligation. I imagine that there were potential patrons of Elaine's Photography that chose not to do business with her because of her “lifestyle.”

Ironically, SB1062 tried to set up yet another group with special rights. This group being people of faith. SB1062 said nothing about non-religious people. Apparently, people who aren't religious are incapable of strong values and convictions. Also, I have suspicion that the state of Arizona would balk if a business person's religious convictions conflicted with certain types of laws especially those involving fees and taxes.

Something has to give in the battle between religious and sexual orientation rights. However, it's hard to deal with people as equals as long as some of us are more equal than others.





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