In 2012, two men approached Masterpiece Cakeshop to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to bake this particular cake for religious reasons. The couple went on to file a formal complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for sexual orientation discrimination. The initial ruling stated that Philips did not have a first amendment right to deny the gay couple’s request for a cake. The commission also “ordered Jack and his staff to either violate Jack’s faith by designing custom wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages or stop designing all wedding cakes, which was approximately 40% of Jack’s business.” The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States where the original ruling was overturned by a vote of 7-2. The Court held that the Commission’s hostile actions against Phillips violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
This particular case is often brought up in discussions surrounding minority rights and anti-discrimination laws. Advocates of the LGBT community point to the case and use it as proof of undue discrimination. Admittedly, the baker is acting in a discriminatory manner. However, the baker has religious obligations to sponsoring a same-sex marriage. Arguing whether or not these objections are legitimate is irrelevant. Instead, an adherence to basic liberties is a more appropriate and effective long term strategy.
In a free market economy, individuals are able to choose which businesses they purchase goods and/or services from. Likewise, businesses should be able to choose whom they serve. Private citizens are not forced to subsidize private businesses in a free market economy, so the business should have no obligation to serve anyone.
If a business chooses to refuse service to a certain group of people based on race, religion, sex, or other characteristic, individual shoppers in the market can choose whether or not to support this business. For example, a business who is openly refusing service to black people would not receive my support, financial or otherwise. Additionally, a society committed to liberty would allow me to speak out against this company’s policy under the protections of free speech.
Blatant and indefensible discrimination would not benefit the business’ bottom line. Self-proclaimed defenders of minorities often attack business owners for being heartless seekers of profit and, “in the next breath, (castigate) those same businessmen for discriminating against a minority group simply because they’re a minority.” Of course, a business cannot simultaneously be a profit maximizing machine and a discriminatory monster.
Of course, there was a time in this country where segregation laws made it impossible for people to enjoy the products and services of certain businesses. The Jim Crow laws are an example of such discriminatory laws. It is reasonable to want to protect historically discriminated groups of people.
However, it is not a coincidence that it was the government that enacted said laws. By calling for the modern day government to decide on whose liberty holds more weight, we are allowing for a future whereby similar discriminatory laws can be put on the books. Indeed, the single most effective approach to hammering out modern day discrimination is in the free market.
Again, conversations about discrimination tend to focus solely on upholding the rights of certain classes of people. These protected classes usually only include women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, and certain religious groups. Oftentimes, the liberties of certain groups are justified while rejecting basic liberties for other groups.
Upholding the rights of a certain group (in this case, LGBT persons) over the rights of another group (in this case, religious persons) is a contradictory and illegitimate stance. One cannot simultaneously claim to be an advocate for minority rights while disregarding individual liberties. After all, the smallest minority in the world is the individual.