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No Soup For You!


There's been a lot of talk lately about the rights of private business when it comes to the power they should (or shouldn't) have when it comes to who they serve and what sort of health care benefits they do or don't have to provide. Situations that come to mind are the laws some states have tried to pass granting businesses the right to discriminate based upon religious grounds and, of course, this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows Hobby Lobby (and other businesses) the right to pick and choose what sort of health care it provides based upon its religious convictions (because apparently an entire corporation can have its own religion now).

It used to be, decades ago, that businesses (especially in the south) could refuse service to people because of the color of their skin. The business owners would often cite religion as a defense. And, yes, racism flourished for quite some time in this country with people selectively quoting from the Bible as part of their reasoning for racism. We're seeing the same issue now with gay rights supplanting ethnicity as the target du jour. It's odd for me, because I remember this sort of thing as being something I read about in history books, and saw featured in documentaries talking about our less-enlightened days. Now, it's front page news. Again.

A few months ago I read a story that described a situation going on in some southern city (the name of which escapes me at the moment). A Ku Klux Klan rally had occurred in the city's downtown area, and the 'hook' of the article was that many of the downtown businesses were proudly making it known that the KKK members were not welcome in their establishments. One shop, which apparently specializes in serving various soups, put out a sign that read: 'KKK - No Soup For You!,' which was a play on the old battle cry of the Soup Nazi from the TV show Seinfeld.

Many reasonable, non-racist people performed some figurative (or perhaps even literal ) fist pumps at the news of what the downtown businesses were doing, myself among them. But then I thought, 'Is this similar -- or the same -- as what we were decrying when states like Arizona and Mississippi were considering allowing businesses to not serve people because they were gay, and cloaking it in terms of religious freedom? Does a member of the KKK -- in spite of how heinous and reprehensible he might be -- have the right to go into a restaurant and be served soup?'

Legally, I have no idea what the answers are to the aforementioned questions. Morally, I think it presents a bit of a quandary. If I owned a business, I would (morally) love to refuse service to a racist, homophobe, member of the KKK, or any bigoted person in general. Could I legally? And, even morally, is that doing the right thing? No one's morals are exactly the same. That is, after all, the argument brought forward by those business owners who want to deny service to gay people. Homosexuality is morally repugnant to them. I think they're misguided, but then it brings us back to the question of who is the moral arbiter of the owner/customer relationship?

I dunno. Perhaps I'm giving too much thought to all this? It would seem like a no-brainer that you can't discriminate against people, period. But then, by "people", do we mean ethnic, gender and sexual minorities only? Is it it okay to discriminate against bigots? Is that like an eye for any eye? Does the fact that a business opens itself up to the public nullify all of these 'who can and can't be served' arguments? Am I just making this more complicated and fraught than it needs to be?


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