Tahlequah Daily Press

February 26, 2014

Legislation sanctioning discrimination is bad for business everywhere


TAHLEQUAH — If a business owner denied services to everyone who was an egregious “sinner,” how long would it be before he had to shutter his operation?

Every day, the typical entrepreneur welcomes scores of liars into his establishment. No doubt a few adulterers are among the mix, as well as the occasional thief. Chances are good that several customers enjoy reading dirty magazines and watching pornographic movies. Almost all of them will have, at one time or another, failed to honor their fathers and mothers. They may have also coveted things belonging to their neighbors. And as far as taking the Lord’s name in vain, they may commit that sin if a price tag is too high for their liking.

Whether they know it or not, business owners are constantly completing transactions with criminals. If the entrepreneur is a highly religious person, it’s likely that a much higher percentage of his customers engage in behavior he would consider morally reprehensible. So if a half-dozen states are going to pass laws sanctioning discrimination against gays on religious grounds, why stop there? Why not include all the other “sinners” in the mix?

It’s true many churches consider gay sexual acts a grave sin, though they may acknowledge a person can’t help being gay; as they say, “hate the sin, love the sinner.” They can also quote Scripture to bolster their belief that gay marriage is an abomination. And indeed, no matter what eventually happens in secular America, the First Amendment would seem to guarantee no church can ever be forced to marry a gay couple.

But several states are trying to go even further, pushing laws to safeguard folks who deny services to gays. A bill in Kansas is now dead in the water, but it would have protected businesses and individuals – including government employees – from lawsuit if they denied food, hotel rooms, employment or other services to presumed gays. Similar legislation in South Dakota, Tennessee, and yes, even Oklahoma, could be used in the same manner. And in Arizona, the government is taking a few days to decide whether to sign a like-minded bill.

Such measures seem counterproductive and mean-spirited. More to the point, they’re hypocritical, since so far, we’ve seen no legislation protecting those who would slam the door on known adulterers, liars, or porn lovers.

These laws will also be bad for business, as Apple, American Airlines and Marriott told Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Representatives of these corporations and others warned Brewer her state would take a financial hit if she signed the law. Marriott said it “would have profound negatives impacts on the hospitality industry” in Arizona. For American Airlines, the bill “sends the wrong message.” The state’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have called for a veto, and some of the state lawmakers who initially supported the law have switched course in the face of public backlash.

Americans cherish the right to hold divergent religious views – even if those views are anathema to many others. But do we really need another law, when at least in theory, businesses can already refuse to serve whom they choose? And should we really cross that fine line if it harms others needlessly, or if it involves the state in attempts to force the rest of the population to “respect” a particular religious viewpoint?

Perhaps we should ask that well-worn question: “What would Jesus do?” Since he tended to break bread with tax collectors, prostitutes and others the religious leaders of the day would have considered “sinners,” we suspect his carpentry shop would have made custom furniture for gays as well.