Steven Kalas, Commerce holds upper hand in debate on religious freedom, Las Vegas Review Journal

One of my favorite haunts in Las Vegas is Larry’s Great Western Meats. An old-fashioned butcher shop. When I’m feeling especially decadent and carnivorous, that’s where you’ll find me.

I’m standing at the register, paying for my dead animal, when I see the sign saying “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Well, lots of businesses have that sign. Indeed, I’ve seen the sign all my life lurking on the wall behind cash registers. But today, standing here, the sign piques my interest anew.

Let’s say you are an eager-beaver entrepreneurial type. You are a U.S. citizen. Let’s say you work hard, scratch and claw to save money and finally you realize your dream of owning a small business. You own the building. You own the land on which the building stands.

Let’s make you a florist. OK, with pride and joy you open Larry’s Great Western Flowers. (I forgot to mention you married into the meat family.)

So, if you forget to post a sign that says “We reserve to the right to refuse service to anyone,” and then you refuse to sell me flowers and ask me to leave your store, can I then say, “Neener, neener! You have to sell me flowers because you didn’t reserve the right to refuse me!”

On the other hand, if you do post the sign, what rights, exactly, have you reserved?

If I enter the flower shop and behave lawfully (i.e., I’m not naked, not brandishing a weapon or otherwise threatening people, not using the flower pots as a public restroom, not vandalizing property, not screaming obscenities, etc.), then, what rights does an American business owner still retain?

Turn the question around: If you own and operate a flower shop, unlock the front door and turn on the “Open” sign, are you lawfully remanded, ipso facto, to sell flowers to any lawfully behaving customer who walks through the door?

Or, do you, the owner, indeed have the right to refuse to sell me flowers for any number of personal, prejudicial reasons. Because I have an obscene tattoo. Because I have bad breath. Because I’m a Democrat. Because I’m gay. Because I belong to the wrong ethnic group or have too many or too few melanocyte cells in my skin. Because I cheated on your daughter and then divorced her. Because I own and operate the porn store down the street. Because you think I’m ugly. Etc.

If you worship a god who teaches you an a priori condemnation of gay people, and a couple walk into your flower shop to prepare for their upcoming anniversary party, can you claim and reserve the right not to sell them flowers? Because that, for you, is the faithful exercise of your religion?

Can the government make you sell flowers to gay people? Should it?

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has my attention. I find myself re-examining what that sign about “the right to refuse service” means.

On the one hand, I think one of the great costs of “freedom” is that we are granted the freedom to be ignorant, hateful and bigoted (as long as we are lawfully ignorant, hateful and bigoted). And I think the best crafted legislation cannot fix a determined commitment to ignorant, hateful and bigoted. That is, law cannot make us good. It can only set a boundary for bad.

My first thought is let the wheels of economics turn. If I knew that you refuse to sell flowers to gay people, I wouldn’t shop at your store. I’d likely write a column about you, saying why I’d stopped shopping there. Maybe you’d finally notice that gay dollars are just as green as straight dollars and get over yourself.

This is exactly how my home state of Arizona acquired a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, by the way. They got sick of losing Super Bowls, conventions and other scads of dollars.

On the other hand, hiding hate behind the mask of pathological religion is a disturbing and dangerous thing (see the Islamic State). In all too recent U.S. history, for example, many white Christians insisted that black segregation was what God wanted. In 1964, We The People responded with the Civil Rights Act. Because we couldn’t wait for economic and other evolutionary forces to grind on. The injustices were too great.

For now, I say let the socioeconomic forces work in Indiana. Until and unless we see obvious violations of civil rights, let those who believe deeply in the Religious Freedom Law clutch tightly to their beliefs. And let those who protest do so lawfully.

Because I’m guessing unimpeded commerce will win the day.

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