If We Don’t Have The Right To Refuse Service, Aren’t We All Slaves?

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In New Mexico, the state supreme court has ruled that a photography company violated state law by refusing to take photos at a gay wedding:

The court found that Elane Photography’s refusal to serve Vanessa Willock violated the act, which “prohibits a public accommodation from refusing to offer its services to a person based on that person’s sexual orientation,” according to the ruling.

Justice Richard C. Bosson, writing in concurrence, said that the case “provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice.” In addition, the case “teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less.”

We’ve all seen those signs in restaurants and stores. “We reserve the right to refuse service.” But clearly, that’s not a right the courts are recognizing, and that’s interesting in its implications.

There are a lot of reasons to refuse service. Most of us would agree that refusing to serve an unruly or rude customer is ok. Laws actually provide criminal consequences for establishments who continue to serve alcohol to people who are inebriated.

But refusing service to someone because of their skin color? Or religion? Or sexual orientation? Most of us would object to those sort of policies.

Here’s the question, though: Regardless of whether or not we agree with the reason for refusing service, should a business or individual be required to provide that service if they don’t want to?

I if the law mandates that one person use their skills or labor in service in another even in instances where that person refuses, is that not a form of slavery?

I’m afraid that it is, and I’m worried what this precedent portends for future legal questions.  Are banks to be required to give loans even when the borrower doesn’t qualify? Some might argue we’ve done something similar in the areas of student loans and mortgages.

This reminds me of comments Senator Rand Paul made back in 2011 about the supposed “right” to health care.

“With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care you have to realize what that implies,” he said. “I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery.”

I don’t think anyone has the right to demand the unwilling services of someone else, even when that unwillingness is born of attitudes or beliefs we find objectionable.

I would criticize those refusing service because of reasons like sexual orientation or skin color. I would deny them my business, and implore others to do likewise. But use the law to compel their unwilling service?

That’s a sin against liberty worse than any sort of bigotry.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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