The Right to Refuse Service

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

— signs posted on restaurants nationwide

I’m sure you have all heard about the “Sweet Cakes” case, in which Aaron and Melissa Klein were recently ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to a lesbian couple because they refused to bake them a wedding cake based on their religious convictions. (And, now, the state of Oregon says it will place a lien on the Kleins’ home, if they don’t hurry up and pay.) The Kleins didn’t refuse to bake said cake because the potential customers were lesbians, but because the cake was for celebrating something the Kleins could not in good conscience be party to. Commenting on the case, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said,

“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are.”

She is absolutely wrong.

Assuming you own the business, you should have every right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. I don’t care if they are LGBT or straight; liberal or conservative; Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist; black or white; Trekkie or Whovian; open carry or pacifist; vegan or meat-eater. I also don’t care if you are a racist, bigot, or generic jerk, or if you have legitimate, practical and/or principled reasons for discriminating against one or more groups, characteristics, or behaviors. If it’s your business, you should be able to serve or not serve whomever you want, in general or only in particular circumstances, for whatever bleepin’ reason you please!

AAUGH!!!

AAUGH!!!

You should be able to make this known with signs or word-of-mouth, via social media or traditional media, or not at all until a certain situation arises. Of course, as soon as any such restrictions to your clientele become known, you run the risk of losing business, because even people whom you would not turn away but who object to your policy can & will take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, others will appreciate and support you all the more. You chalk it up to competitive risk within a free-market system and go into it with eyes wide open. That’s up to you. And any businesses involved in marketing, tax prep, vendors, etc., that you want to do business with should have the right to accept or refuse your business, for the same reasons and with the same potential ramifications.

I don’t care if you run a bakery, print shop, B&B, restaurant, gun store, florist, photography studio, computer repair service, or anything else. No private business should be told — either by government or by any other group (unless you voluntarily submit to their authority) — who they must or must not serve or what kinds of services/products they must or must not provide. No one has a right to demand that you serve them, nor do they have a “right” to not be offended or have their feelings hurt. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” These aren’t legal arguments. And you should not be under threat of a lawsuit — with potentially huge fines, legal fees, even jailtime, putting your business, home, and/or life at risk — for not serving them. That’s just wrong and a violation of your rights! The fact that this is even an issue in this of all countries is a symptom of the sad state of affairs we are in and the constant battle to maintain our constitutionally recognized freedoms.

AAarrgh!!

Now, many of you are probably yelling at me through your screen and reminding me of anti-discrimination law like the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin — “places of public accommodation” being hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs, and stores. (Non-profits, e.g., churches (for now), are generally exempt.) Also, there is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on disability. In return, I would first point out that you can refuse to serve someone even if they are in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people. (Unfortunately, this can work for or against you, depending on the judge.) But, I also question the constitutionality of such anti-discrimination laws and suspect that they impinge on First Amendment rights like freedom of association and, in cases like that of “Sweet Cakes”, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. I would also point to the benefits of full competitiveness in a free-market capitalist economy and the often detrimental effects of unnecessary regulation and other manner of government intervention in business.

But, my rant is not really about what laws may or may not be in force right now. I’m talking about what, in my humble opinion, should be the case. Ultimately, it’s your business. Barring any criminal activity or issues of genuine public health & safety, you should be able to determine your own clientele. It’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.

OK, I’ve said my piece….

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