A Warning on Acceptance

From time to time it is important to challenge our own worldviews and question the validity of our opinions.  I recently found myself in such a position when I faced the paradox of when acceptance interacts with personal rights.

I remember learning when I was studying that businesses have the right to refuse to serve anybody on the basis of their own choices.  The argument went along the following lines.

Imagine you own a small shop and you buy products wholesale and then sell them with a mark up to make a living.  Effectively these products belong to you until you sell them.  So in the same way as you have personal property at home you have the right to simply sell them as you wish to who you wish and there is nothing that can be said or done about it.  It is your inalienable right.

Everything was simple and clear… or so I thought.

Recent events and discussions have caused me to pause and reassess my understanding of the issue and more than anything the point of this post is that at all times we must be prepared to revisit our views from time to time and if necessary change.  This is not an argument for the erosion of absolutes, rather it is an argument against arrogance.

In October 2018 a Christian couple won a battle in the legal courts that supported their right to refuse to ‘make’ a wedding cake for a gay couple in what became known as the gay cake case.   For many it was seen as a test case as it made out that the bakers were homophobic.  The bakers argued contrary to this that it was not in fact a homophobic position that they had taken, rather they had refused on the basis that they don’t agree with the message that had been requested.  The court agreed with them (summary based on an article in The Independent.ie).

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of the issue, it seems apparent that the refusal was based on a principled stance on not supporting gay marriage.  It can therefore be defined as homophobic even if it wasn’t hateful.  Individuals are entitled to have whatever views they want, even if others find them disagreeable.  Personally if I am in a position where somebody refuses to serve me (or more likely they provide unsatisfactory service) I would just simply not give them my business and go to a competitor.  A student of mine said on this very issue that ‘it is the fastest way to destroy your own business’.

In Poland recently another issue arose when a member of IKEA staff used a Bible quotation to support a homophobic comment on the company’s intranet.  The company fired him on the basis that his views did not align with the inclusive values of the company.

This further complicates the issue because in the first case the company – albeit a small one – refused to provide the wedding cake with the requested message on the basis of the owners’ values, but in the second the employee was fired on the basis on the owners’ values not matching his.  What about the right to individual views – even if we find them unpalatable?  Could he have been moved sideways or to another area rather than lose his job?

The answer is a resounding no!!!  For IKEA to keep this employee on would have been to validate his view.

For the bakers it is more complicated.  They argued that they disagreed with the message not making the cake – surely they go hand in hand, forgive the bad pun, especially on a wedding cake!  If the message had been something racist or chauvinistic they would have been applauded for taking a stance, rather they found themselves being sued.

The cake is definitely more complicated, but if I had been wanting a cake and they refused to decorate it with the message I wanted I would have simply gone elsewhere.  I certainly wouldn’t have taken them to court.

However, even if ‘gay cake’ still remains complicated, one thing has become clear to me.   Service cannot be refused on the basis of a demographic.  The refusal of service concept that I learnt was on the basis of abusive / difficult customers, or even the simple economic arguments along the lines of productivity – or put simply a profit to efficiency ratio.

If we start allowing companies to refuse service on the basis of a demographic we are on a slippery slope.  We are in danger of recreating an apartheid system.  We will serve anybody so long as they are not _____ (insert whichever demographic word you like here).  Taken to an extreme, it is not that long ago that people were labelled, excluded and ultimately murdered on the basis of a demographic.  The yellow Star of David worn by European Jews during the Second World War should serve as a warning to us and along with the swastika it has become one of the world’s most potent symbols of hate.

On this point, it may be a concern that members of the LGBT+ community are also being labelled.  The difference between the rainbow and the Star of David is that it is a self-labelling.  It does worry me that the rainbow may lead to separation or discrimination, but that is a discussion for another article.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019.