Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill Is About Property Rights, Not Religion

Before we get into this article, let me say that personally I support the right of gay couples to marry — it is not the role of the government to dictate to individuals or private businesses their sexuality, or their religious beliefs.  It is unjust to codify that gay couples can’t marry.  It is unjust to codify that blacks must ride in the back of the city bus.  But it is also unjust to codify that a bakery must serve any given customer.  In short the reason I support gay marriage is the same reason I see no problem with Indiana’s legislation.

I recently read an article by George Takei regarding Indiana’s new law.  The headline of the article calls for boycotting Indiana, but the substance of it barely mentions boycott.  Instead it has a far deeper, insidious message.  In it, George states:

“The doors of a school or a restaurant or a business, held open to the public, must be open to all.”

I’m afraid George’s reasoning is a little muddled here.  We have to be careful to separate private from public when we talk about legislation governing the choices and policies involved in any entity.  Public schools, funded by taxpayers, are certainly correct to include here.  If a restaurant or business is privately held but operating on government property (for instance a concession stand at a ball park or in an airport), it should be included.  But a private business on private property should not be included.  In other words “open to the public” is a phrase that could stand some clarification.

“Open to the public”, from the viewpoint of a business owner, means that the doors are open and you can walk in.  This is in direct contrast to the front door of the business owner’s residence, which is not open and you can’t just walk in.  Both are private entities, so “open to the public” in the case of the business just means that you don’t have to bother knocking.  It is important to understand that distinction in order to understand the stance of private business owners.

Let’s go back to George’s article:

  “…our social contract demands we sometimes relinquish individual liberties in the name of a more just and open society.”

Here is where the check hits the bank.  George is suggesting that we give up property rights (which in this case is the civil liberty in question) in order to serve some vague notion of social justice.  Aren’t property rights part and parcel of the social justice for which the colonists rebelled and which the United States has evolved these 239 years?

This is the real core of the issue in my opinion behind this fight.  It is part of a larger argument which on one side calls for public ownership of all property and on the other side seeks to preserve the sanctity of private ownership.

Under the property rights model every business owner has the inherent right, because the business and its inventory are his property, to refuse service to anyone, for whatever reason he or she chooses.  This isn’t an unreasonable civil liberty, but it is, in my opinion, bad business.  I’m always glad to have customers and I try to receive them graciously as thanks for their custom, but I have no right to tell neighboring businesses that they should do the same.

Therein lies the remedy for all — the tool for modifying the behavior of Indiana businesses already exists. Rather than erode property rights, the gay community should exercise economic pressure by initiating the boycott mentioned in Takei’s headline.  There is no need to adopt the legislative approach hinted at in the body of the article.