Under the heading of Fire Prevention and Safety, Clark County, NV has an ordinance which requires a business owner to post the following sign above their entrance:
“THIS DOOR TO REMAIN UNLOCKED DURING BUSINESS HOURS”
Obviously, the business is not required merely to post the sign but to comply with its meaning. That seems somewhat laughable since, if you own a business, locking out the public from access would tend to discourage people from entering your premises and buying your product. And I have never had an experience where I walked into a business and a guard locked the door behind me refusing to allow me to leave until I had purchased something. Nonetheless, I’m sure that the rule, if not thought through completely, was enacted with the best of intentions.
Of course, we have many laws on the books which were enacted with the best of intentions but whose unintended consequences were so problematic that they had to be amended or repealed entirely. The Constitutional amendment beginning Prohibition is one example which comes to mind.
Oregon has a law which prohibits a business from discriminating against a wide array of protected “classes,” one of which is homosexuals. An administrative law judge found bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein guilty of violating that law and infringing on the rights of two lesbian women who wanted to place an order with them to bake a wedding cake to celebrate their nuptials. The Kleins declined to do so because they have religious beliefs that they believe would be compromised by participating in a gay wedding. The two women brought suit and were awarded $135,000 under their claim of having experienced 88 different forms of “mental-rape” as a result of the Kleins’ refusal to provide their cake.
As might be expected, the ALJ’s decision was trumpeted both by the left and the members of the BGLQT community (I’ve re-ordered LGBTQ alphabetically so that there is no implication that one subcomponent is more important than any other) as a triumph for fairness, and on the right was predictably denounced as an attack on Christian faith. In the final analysis, I suspect that both sides on this issue may prove to be wrong. What may be at risk in decisions like this is the ability, for whatever reason, for people to hold an opinion and to act on it which is in contradiction to that held by the vocal minority. What is in jeopardy is not freedom of thought or freedom of speech but freedom itself, at its most essential level.
I respect the Kleins standing on their principles. Personally, as a Christian, I do not feel that their providing a cake for a gay wedding would have been a tacit endorsement of gay marriage. But in any “anything goes” world it is unusual to find people who still try to conduct their lives based on principle.
Every business owner has to balance morality with profitability. The left portrays business people as being greedy, only mindful of profits at the expense of their employees who are generally categorized by them as being overworked and underpaid. The fact that the Kleins would decline to bake a wedding cake for this lesbian wedding undermines that theory. If business owners are strictly and solely motivated by profit then turning down a profitable order makes absolutely no sense. It is for that reason that we should give weight to their stated belief that in their view, participating in the ceremony by baking a wedding cake was something that they could not do in conscience.
But there is another reason the Kleins, their views on homosexuality being openly known, might have made a wise business decision, one not based on their religious faith.
Let’s take the case of a family restaurant owned by a Mormon family. One evening, a man staggers through the door. His breath reeks of alcohol and he clings to the hostess station near the door to try to stabilize himself. By anyone’s standards he is obviously drunk.
The owner of the restaurant comes over to him but before he can say anything, the drunken patron starts yelling that he wants coffee and he wants to eat.
The owner explains that he is a Mormon and based on his religious beliefs does not serve coffee in his establishment. The man again shouts out that he wants coffee and food. By now, the families in the restaurant have stopped eating and everyone is watching this encounter near the front door.
The owner politely suggests that the patron does not appear to be sober and out of concern for him offers to call him a taxi so that he can get home safely. But instead of following this kindly advice, he sees an empty seat at a table where a husband and wife and three children are eating and he staggers over to the table and flops into the vacant chair, reiterating his demand for coffee and food. In frustration, the owner calls the police who arrive swiftly and arrest the patron for being drunk and disorderly and remove him from the restaurant in handcuffs.
Now if most people were empaneled on a jury and these facts were presented in evidence as the state’s case why this man should be punished for his disruptive behavior, I suspect they would vote to convict. The fact that Mormons don’t consume alcohol or coffee would have played no factor in the evidentiary presentation.
But let’s replay that same scenario with only one change. The drunk patron comes into the restaurant and he is wearing a T-shirt that has a Rainbow Flag on it and above and below are written the words GAY PRIDE.
Several weeks go by and suddenly a man shows up at the restaurant with a summons which he delivers to the owner. The patron who was removed from the restaurant has filed suit because he claims that he was refused service for the sole reason that he was a gay male.
In some respect, filing a law suit to “bring about social change” is the ultimate and easily accessed methodology for those whose lives are otherwise too mundane to warrant their very own “reality TV show”. And the potential to score a big payday while having to pay nothing out of pocket for your contingency case – well, that’s just icing on the cake.
It costs just as much to defend yourself if you’re innocent or guilty. Filing a law suit is, in the view of many, the path to riches more than it is a path to justice. Given the current mania of juries awarding ridiculous punitive damages, perhaps hoping they will set a precedent if one day they should be the plaintiff in a similar case, it’s hard to know how a jury would decide the case.
Returning to the Kleins who were and are candid on their view of homosexuality, I would think that one of the things that should concern them in the future is, that even if they were to modify their view that providing a wedding cake for a gay wedding is an endorsement of gay marriage, they should take caution. Returning to my premise that people sue other people whether or not there is a basis in fact, let’s consider the following scenario.
Another gay couple asks the Kleins to bake them a cake for their nuptials. The Kleins have decided to be guided by the synoptic Gospel advice to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. So they agree to prepare the cake the couple selects.
On the appointed day they deliver a beautiful cake. The ceremony ends and the guests retire to the banquet. But the couple is dissatisfied with the cake they ordered. So they file suit, claiming that the cake didn’t meet their expectations and that the Kleins purposely sabotaged their happy day because despite recanting on their views, they found a way to ruin the happy couple’s celebration by preparing a cake that was not up to standards.
Is this an unlikely scenario – a right wing conspiracy theory? Well, possibly so. Or perhaps, given today’s PC climate and verdicts that emanate from jury nullification, maybe it’s the kind of case whose outcome is already baked in the cake.