The Indiana Religious Freedom Bill — And Similar Laws In Other States — Is Distasteful, But Necessary

On Thursday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Bill, according to CNN. Depending on whom you ask, the bill would either protect religious business owners from having to engage in business practices that violate their religious beliefs (for example, bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding) or it would give carte blanche for business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ customers.

In fact, the law does both those things, and that’s exactly how it should be.

The Sword That Cuts Both Ways

Laws that protect religious business owners from being sued, fined, or otherwise held to account for refusing service to gay customers by necessity protect all business owners from being held to account for discrimination. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

Consider, for example, the case of the Azucar Bakery in Denver. Owner Marjorie Silva was approached by a customer who wanted a cake with an offensive message about gays written on it.

A customer wanted a Denver bakery to bake a cake with a similar message.
A customer wanted a Denver bakery to bake a cake with a similar message.

Silva, who describes herself as “Pro-LGBTQ,” refused to bake the cake, and the customer — later identified as “Christian Educator” Bill Jack — filed a discrimination complaint.

A Religious Freedom Bill would have protected the gay-friendly business owner from having to answer for such a complaint, and would have allowed her to refuse service to the customer with no consequences.

The Transparency of Bigotry

If you are gay, or supportive of gay rights, here’s a hypothetical for you: At which business would you rather spend your money — the one owned by a bigot who hates gays, or the one owned by a gay (or gay-friendly) businessperson who welcomes everyone’s dollar equally?

If a business can be forced, by law, to serve those whom they’d rather not serve, then you don’t get to know who the bigots are. In other words, under Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill, when a business refuses your dollar because you’re gay, you can then document the problem, broadcast it (for example, on social media or Yelp), and tell your friends not to do business there. Without such a bill, the business owner’s bigotry would be kept a secret, and you could unknowingly be giving your money to a bigot.

Do You Really Want A Hate-Filled Cake?

Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, according to Huffington Post, refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. After a lawsuit, a campaign of harassment, a $150,000 fine, and a business forced to close, the gay couple that brought the complaint never did get their cake. If they had, what would they have gotten, except a cake from someone who clearly didn’t want to bake it for them and was willing to go out of business to avoid baking it?

At the end of the day, a negative Yelp review and a visit to one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of Oregon bakers who would have gladly taken the gay couple’s money would have solved the problem.

As our culture becomes more accepting of gays, gay rights, and gay marriage, there are always going to be people who aren’t fully on board with the idea. Sometimes, such people are business owners. While that may be regrettable, it’s not a problem that can — or should — be solved by government intervention. Rather, it’s a problem that can — and should — be solved by the free market. Businesses should be free to make their own business decisions, even if (arguably, especially if) those decisions would cost them business.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill is the first step toward making sure that happens.

[Images courtesy of: Getty Images/David McNew, Spare Not]

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