Should We Be Free to Discriminate?

January 5, 2015Category: PoliticsTags: , , ,

I recently read an article and had some thoughts I’d like to share. The article is here:

Is it religious freedom or discrimination? – JCOnline

I’ve been avoiding this topic for a while now because I see both sides, but I feel the urge to step in. This will be a lengthy post.Would love to start a conversation, so feel free to comment.

A person (we’ll call them Seller) opens a store, and offers a service. Should Seller be allowed to decide who they want to serve? Should they be allowed to serve only certain people?

This is the question before us, and despite some initial first thoughts, it’s not simple or easy. It’s complex. I can demonstrate this by giving you two examples which don’t lead to the same easy conclusion:


  • Example A: Jill is a baker who bakes wedding cakes. Bob and Bill, two men, are getting married and want Jan to bake their cake. Jan is a Christian who is morally opposed to gay marriage, and refuses. Should she be allowed to refuse, or should the government force her to bake their cake?

  • Example B: The Millers are a black family in the deep south where racial prejudice is still frequent. They move to a small town where almost everyone is white, and try to get an apartment. They can’t find an apartment because of their skin color; no one wants to rent to people who aren’t white. Should an apartment manager be able to refuse, or should the government force him to rent an apartment to the the Millers?


A lot of people look at the Example A and are drawn to the side of the baker. Why should the government force someone to do work? Aren’t we allowed freedom of commerce? Up until now the gay marriage debate has been pretty one sided in terms of who is trying to control others. (Christians wanted to control others by not allowing them to get married). But now it’s flipping, right? Now it’s the gay couple who wants to control the baker’s actions. They seem to be losing the moral high ground.

But then we look at Example B and suddenly we feel a lot more sympathy with the party that is being denied the services. Partly it’s the nature of the service (housing vs a cake) but mostly it’s because of the nature of the discrimination. At this point in our society, the vast majority of us don’t approve of discrimination against people because of their skin color because the vast majority of us don’t think badly of people just because of said skin color. (Btw, The Millers couldn’t have been denied an apartment in this Example, because it is illegal and has been for decades to discriminate on the basis of skin color when doing business due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964). We just haven’t reached that level of societal acceptance with gay people yet, so it’s a lot harder to identify with them.

So here is where we stand. Should we allow individuals to choose exactly who and why they want to do any sort of business with? Or should we act as a society to prevent individuals from being assholes?


Despite all the seeming contradictions though, there is consistency. We just have to dig deep enough to find it. The most baseline rule is this:

When a group of people reaches a level of full societal acceptance, then discrimination against them becomes morally wrong.

The word “full” is key. Despite what many people say, our society has a distinct libertarian bent, and we have an inherent distaste for adding yet another layer of control on people (On the baker). Even a minority, if large enough, and prevent this. This is what we are seeing now. The large minority of people who are still opposed to homosexuality are trying to prevent society from adding discrimination protections for sexual preference.


My one personal thoughts: As long as we have any discrimination protections at all, then I think we need to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. However, I’m not sure if we should we preventing discrimination at all. I see a benefit from it, but I also dislike the fact that government is dictating who someone can and can’t do business with. At least I’m consistent though. I’d bet you that most people who are pushing for these “religious protection laws” wouldn’t go on the record saying that a person should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race.