There has been a lot of debate, even among libertarians, over the recent Arizona Senate Bill 1062, which would have protected people from discrimination lawsuits if they proved they had acted on a “sincerely held religious belief.”
Sadly, most people miss the bigger picture and the cause for this political feud. I have not read the bill itself and won’t comment on it, but it wouldn’t have been proposed if business owners actual had the ability to choose whom they will conduct business with. Like with so many things, the arguments are over superficial issues – such as why or how someone was discriminated against – and no pertinent questions are raised.
In that spirit, here are a few questions that people could consider:
- When is a person legally required to provide someone a service? For example, I do not run a photography studio, but I do have knowledge of photography from my experience as a reporter. I am offered a job to take photos at a wedding by someone who knows my background. I refuse to take the job for any number of reasons that could be construed as discrimination. The person sues me as a result. Should I be fined for refusing? If not, should people who run a business and do the same be sued? If so, in what way am I free?
- Or, let us suppose that a person who runs a book cover business is approached by an author to design a book cover for his novel. The illustrator turns it down for a number of possible reasons, one of which is the sexual content of the book or some other content he finds morally objectionable. The author is offended by this rejection and sues for sexual discrimination. Is his claim of discrimination legitimate? Why or why not?
- Do business owners truly have the right to refuse service to anyone? If not, what criteria must be established?
- If a business owner does not get to choose whom they will conduct business with, who does? Where does this authority come from?
- If someone who does not own a business has power and authority over that business that the owner does not have, then in what way does the owner actually own the business?
- Are anti-discrimination laws really enforcing justice or legislating morality?
- Does a person have a right to a service provided by someone else? If so, how is that other person free, if they do not have a choice?
- Consider the concept of aggression, coercion, and violence. By refusing to do something for someone else, I am not acting in violence or aggression, nor using coercion to force them to do something they do not want to do. By forcing someone to do something under the threat of a lawsuit, however, one uses all three. Why is this morally superior to the former position?
- Is having the right attitude about a certain moral issue more important than whether or not one acts peacefully or in violence when attempting to obtain something?
- Why is it considered wrong to discriminate based on certain criteria but not others?
At the heart of this national argument is whether or not people have a right to choose whom they will conduct business with and associate with. If you do not believe one has a right to do so, you are in effect saying that either you or someone else has authority over in this area. But this is also leaves another question to be answered. If you have the authority to tell someone else what to do in this area, why do they not have the right to tell you what to do?
As I address in the Common Objections to Libertarian Anarchy page, people have a right to discriminate, as it is the only way in which you are able to make choices. We discriminate every day every time we make a choice, whether it is what we wear and what car we drive to who we befriend and whom we choose to marry and have children with.
Because of government discrimination – which is neither legitimate nor a right – against minorities in American history, people easily confuse the two.
Simply put, if we restored people’s rights in this regard, such bills would not be proposed and the debate would not happen. They exist because we continue to accept a premise that is fundamentally flawed.