The limits of freedom

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You’ve probably read this statement or one similar to it at your place of employment: “[This organization] prohibits discrimination against and harassment of any employee or any applicant for employment because of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, gender, or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.”

I find this statement comforting. After all, we are all covered in there somewhere. You might say to yourself, “lets see, I have an age, gender, and even a nation of origin. Yup! I’m covered”. Personally, as a heterosexual white male Protestant, I don’t really have a lot to worry about in the whole “oppression” bit. Ill do the oppressing thank you very much, but other people not as privileged as me DO have to worry about discrimination. In fact, anti-discrimination laws have been on the books since 1964 and we can all see what a wonderful job they’ve done at preventing discriminated against, well, NON white-Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But in so much as these laws will prevent some bigoted person from from discriminating against WASP men they are a horrific infringement on the rights of my employers to be total jerks if they wish to be.

Not only does the constitution protect the rights of people to be ignorant and offensive, but there’s a specific clause that is almost a mandate for it. Your first amendment right, broadly speaking, to believe any damnable thing you like. Now I fully support a person’s right to believe that a gay person is an abomination on society, going straight to hell, and will bring upon the US the wrath of God before he does so. I even support your right to say so out loud, print it in the press, protest along those lines and in general work to make the world a little more stupid and evil. However I do not believe you have the constitutional authority to harm people through your bigotry.

“I’m not harming people, they can go to the gay-friendly bakery across the street” True. If it was as simple making a single cake, then walking across the street would be more than sufficient and, in practice, this probably the most likely outcome. But there are a couple of reasons why we shouldn’t let it pass. First is it does tangible harm to the community not only in the specific instance but more generally too. If you can’t see it or recognize it then I applaud your being a member of a privileged group that hasn’t suffered this kind of hatred on a continual basis.
The second reason goes back to the Civil Rights Act where congress decided and the Courts agreed that the government has the right to regulate these kinds of business relationships. It’s in everyone’s best interest if minorities can buy and sell like everyone else. Not to mention minority groups have a protected right to conduct business in and about their town which will become exceedingly difficult with pro-discrimination laws in place and pressure from anti-LGBT groups.

Thirdly if you discriminate against a gay person on the basis of your religion, you can discriminate against any person, for any reason, at any time. All of those anti discrimination laws I mentioned at the beginning, gone. Because injustice, even a small injustice like rude and bigoted wedding photographers, is like an infection. It spreads and the bigger it is the harder it is to wipe out. The easier it is to promote hatred and intolerance the more of it well get. Now it’s a wedding cake, tomorrow it’s firing an employee or denying them medical care, housing, transportation, or just the tacit acceptance of violence against minority groups. If you think I’m being alarmist and slippery-slopish then you have completely failed to understand the plight of minority groups. These things do happen to them. It’s not a question of just going next door to the gay-friendly bakery it’s protecting everyone’s right to live and do business in their communities.

Other people’s rights aren’t infringed. A business is can not practice a religion. A business has no constitutional rights. You being forced to interact with others is not a violation of your freedom to worship. This country used to have laws that promoted religious discrimination. If you were Jewish or Irish or the wrong “-ism” you could be forcibly ejected from certain neighborhoods and economic opportunities do we want to back to that? Mandatory church services at work? religious based discrimination? Because that’s what is at stake with these laws.

We are all bound together. There is no separating us. There is no us or them. Bigotry is nothing more than an elaborate form of self-harm. I love you and will do everything I can to prevent you from harming yourself and others.

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