I find it disturbing, and frankly sad, when people use powerful words incorrectly. As a writer and an English teacher, I appreciate the power of words. Perhaps that is why it bothers me when people misuse them to try to promote their cause.
A controversial topic in the news right now is about how states are passing religion freedom acts.
One aspect of these laws, to keep it simple, is to protect business owners who refuse to provide services if those services are in conflict with their religious beliefs. As an example, if a gay couple wants a wedding cake maker to create a cake for them, the cake maker can refuse their business without fear of legal repercussions under these laws.
From what I’ve seen, the media is having a field day with this. Aside from calling these laws as “anti-gay”, another word keeps coming up: “discrimination.” But it isn’t.
“WHAT?!?!?!” some of you may say.
Just hear me out.
Discrimination is “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” Notice the key word: unfairly. Most people who use the word incorrectly forget (or would like to ignore) that part of the definition. But the most important part of the definition is that the treatment is based on who you are as a person.
The law in the USA says it is illegal to discriminate against the following groups: Age, Disability, Ethnicity, Gender, Marital status, National origin, Race, Religion, and Sexual orientation.
“But, wait!” you might say. “It says right there people cannot discriminate, or treat someone unfairly, based on their sexual orientation.” (It also says “religion” in case you glossed over that.)
Here is the major point a lot of people are missing: there is a difference between refusing services to someone based on their sexual orientation and refusing the service because the action is in conflict with a belief.
In other words, it is discrimination to refuse service because of who someone is, but it is NOT discrimination to refuse services based on what they are doing.
Am I splitting hairs? No, I’m not.
If, as a member of the LDS faith, I were to go to an atheist tailor and request he make a baptismal outfit, the tailor could not refuse my business because I am a Mormon. That’s discrimination; you can’t refuse service based on who the person is.
However, if the tailor refused to create the outfit because he did not want to support an action which he disagreed with—that is NOT discrimination.
Another example: my first job was at McDonald’s. I was 16. One day, a woman came in and started screaming that the French Fries she got in the drive through were cold. I watched as the manager was called every name in the book. He then told the customer, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Let me refund your money.” After giving her back her money, she started yelling that she wanted her order done right this time. What did the manager do? He asked her to leave.
What happened next taught me a big lesson.
The lady then yelled, “You are only treating me this way because I’m a woman.”
Calmly, the manager replied, “No. I’m refusing to offer our services based on your actions.”
And he was right. Businesses should have the right to refuse services to anyone unless the reason is based on the proper definition of discrimination.
In the case of the baker and the wedding cake for a gay couple, the owner cannot refuse service based on the fact that the customer is gay. However, if the gay person is getting married (which is legal in a number of states), that is an action. If the owner does not want to support that action, for any reason, including religious, that is not discrimination.
As a writer, I am contacted now and again to write for others. I will do so, as long as what I’m writing is not in conflict with my beliefs. For example, if a person who is eighty-eight years old wants to get back at his ex-wife by paying me to write a book about how she is a horrible person, I would refuse. He could claim I was discriminating against him due to his age. He would be wrong. My refusal has nothing to do with him as a person. It has everything to do with an action.
So, am I calling for the specific right for those who have religious beliefs to be able to refuse services based on the actions of people, including gay people? No. No, I am not.
I am stating that anyone should have the right to refuse service based on the specific actions of another person.