A Right to Discriminate

by | Apr 8, 2015

Why must you be religious to practice what you believe? This should be about individual freedom.

Bake me a cake, or go to jail!

Sadly, that is the new message from “inclusive” America. If you don’t want to cater, photograph, preside over, sell pizza at, sell flowers to or otherwise participate in a gay wedding, you will be punished. If you don’t want your business to pay for a kind of birth control that you consider murder, you will pay fines until your business is bankrupt.

Personally, I think both birth control and homosexuality are just fine, and gay marriage is as valid as straight marriage. But forcing everyone to act as if they think that way is just wrong. We have moved from “inclusion” to totalitarianism.

The list of people you must treat carefully keeps getting longer. Protected classes now include sex, race, age, disability, nationality, citizenship status, pregnancy, family status and more. I’m in two of those groups. You better treat me well!

Why force someone who disapproves of your actions to bake you a cake? Lots of other bakers would love the business. This debate has moved from inclusion to demanding that everyone adopt your values.

In a free country, bigots should have the right to be bigots. Americans should also have freedom of association.

American lawyers talk about special protection for religious freedom, and in the Hobby Lobby case the Supreme Court said you could escape onerous parts of Obamacare by paying lawyers a fortune and convincing judges that you are a closely held corporation with religious objections. But why must you be religious to practice what you believe? This should be about individual freedom.

      Of course, government must not discriminate. The worst of American racism and homophobia — slavery, segregation enforced by Jim Crow laws, bans on interracial marriage, anti-sodomy laws, etc. — was government-enforced discrimination. That was wrong, and it was right for the federal government to intervene.

But private actions are different. If I start a business with my own money, I ought to be allowed to serve only libertarians, people who wear blue shirts, whatever. It’s my business!

My customers have choices. If I am racist or anti-gay, the free market will punish me. Enough people would boycott my business that I would probably lose money quickly.

It would actually be useful to see which businesses refuse to serve one group or another. Tolerance is revealed by how people behave when they are free. American law fosters the illusion that everyone is unbiased, while their real feelings remain hidden, making them harder to boycott, shame or debate.

Punishment from the market is enough. The heavy hand of law is not needed here.

However, given America’s history, I accept that there are a few exceptions. In the South, people banned from a lunch counter had few other choices. The Civil Rights Act’s intrusion into private behavior was probably necessary to counter the damage done by Jim Crow laws.

But today such coercion is no longer needed. Even in the difficult days of Reconstruction, after the Civil War, business began to bring together whites and blacks who might not always have liked each other but who wanted the best deals. It took several years for racists to get Jim Crow passed so they could put a stop to that erosion of the old racist ways. Government helped keep racism going for several more decades.

Individuals should be allowed to discriminate. I discriminate all the time. I favor people over others when I choose my friends, jobs, hobbies, clubs, religion, etc. So do you.

Elizabeth Taylor married nine times. Had she married again, should the EEOC have ordered her to marry someone from an ethnic minority?

A homophobic baker shouldn’t stop a same-sex couple from getting married. Likewise, a gay couple shouldn’t force a baker to make them a wedding cake. No one should ever force anyone to bake them a cake.

John Stossel is author of No They Can't! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed. For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.


  1. You’re absolutely correct. It is irritating to see the story line that individuals are trying to get out of being forced to do something by the government based on their religious beliefs. Why do certain religions have rights that the rest of us don’t have? A religion is nothing more than a set of ideas. Do ideas become more important because they are associated with a religion? I think not. What is needed is an impartial enforcement of individual rights (objectively defined). Just as the government doesn’t tell you who you let into your house, it shouldn’t tell you who you have to serve by your business. If you want to start a business and only serve bald-headed men, you have every right to do that. If you want to have a restaurant with only attractive women waitresses and you have specific parameters on what that might be, you should have every right to do that also. Will this lead to some instances of blacks or gays not being served or hired by certain businesses (as well as other people of other races, religions, gender, or degrees of attractiveness) – sure. The fact is, no one has the right to other people’s property. It’s theirs to do as they wish. The dividing line is that they can’t use force to make you do something you don’t want to do. The other side of this coin is that if you are a business and make a policy of such things, such as being racist, be prepared to be judged and boycotted, because that will happen. I would boycott any business that I knew was being discriminatory in a hateful way (I had to add “in a hateful way” because being discriminatory between someone that had the qualifications to do a job and someone that doesn’t is not being hateful – there is all sorts of discriminating behaviour that is necessary). If you want a free society based on individual rights, you have to allow bad ideas as well as good, as long as no one is being forced to do something they don’t want to do. Then allow the bad ideas to be evaluated and judged in the marketplace of ideas. Those that are against this will say that there are those that are helpless against these bad ideas. They see all of humanity as hopeless individuals that have to be constantly protected against bigots. It is absurd. If there are truly powerless people who can’t fend for themselves, there are plenty of people who are willing to help re the thousands of charities and other helpful institutions we have.

  2. I agree with essence of this article, of course. Nobody should be forced to take part in any transaction he would rather not. What I challenge is the notion that someone who, for example, would not take any part in a same-sex wedding is necessarily bigoted against gays. All sorts of strangers have certainly come into the bake shop and ordered cakes, and the shop owners might not even know who is gay and who is not and the shops have undoubtedly still served anyone who might want to order something. What is heinous about the new trend is that people who simply choose not to have anything to do with something they disagree with on principle are smeared as haters, which is not fair. I do not hate people who have a different opinion than my own. You can like other people just fine without necessarily liking what they do.

    I trust that Mr. Stossel’s observation that there are plenty of other bakeries that would be happy to provide cakes for a same-sex wedding is merely illustrative, since to the hard Left, that is absolutely not the point. He is right that the movement is totalitarian, i.e., utterly intolerant of descenting opinion. That even one bake shop would choose not to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding for any reason, religious or not, is intolerable to the gay lobby. It is not enough to tolerate, or even accept or now even to celebrate homosexuality. If you do not actively promote it as something good then you are in the crosshairs of the gay lobby.

    The Left is all about projection. There is no hate out there as vitriolic as that harboured by the Gay Left – nothing. It leads me to believe that it is *they* who have a problem being gay and that their hostile political manoeuvring is simply how they contend with the uneasiness they have about their own proclivities.

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