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← Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Cartomancer


It must offer them to those who are willing to play ball; it doesnt have to offer them to those whose views are antithetical to its own. If what you propose were the case, how would political parties or trade unions, both of which receive money from members, operate? Political parties expel members all the time if they dont toe the party line, and trade unions...well, I wont even go there!!

No, a public service must be offered to all who can make use of it or to nobody. Anything else is unjust and unfair. The ideological position of the vendor or the benificiary is irrelevant. The service a political party offers is campaigning for specific political ends - it must be open to all who wish to promote those ends. If you do not wish to promote those ends, it's a bit silly to join the party. The system polices itself. Indeed, political parties are not allowed to discriminate on arbitrary ideological grounds in their membership - as the recent news that the BNP are legally compelled to admit ethnic minority members despite their overtly racist policy shows. Trade unions, likewise, are there to represent the interests of their members, and should be open to all employees in the relevant profession who can benefit from that representation.

The 'venue hire' is not analogous to, say, a nightclub hiring its dancefloor to a certain group of revellers; a church, AA, or Weight Watchers is offering a 'package' or an 'idea', of which the venue is just one part.

Yes, that's true. Though a nightclub is also offering a "package", an "idea", in the form of its own particular aesthetic, branding and ambience. But it's still a service. It's still something that people can pay for and use. Therefore it should still come under goods and services non-discrimination regulations.

But that's the mistake you're making(at least in relation to the church): it is not offering services to the general public; it is offering them to those who share its views and beliefs, i.e. those who voluntarily seek to be a part of the 'package' that is on offer. If one doesnt like the package....

No, a church offers its services TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC for MONEY in the same way as any other shop or service provider. There is no relevant difference. A person who chooses to shop in a department store voluntarily chooses to share in and be a part of that shop's "package", and the shop isn't allowed to discriminate. You aren't allowed to set up "White Power Stores" and claim that because your shop is founded on racist principles you are therefore allowed to refuse to sell to black people. Churches are no different. If a gay couple wants to buy in to the package they should be allowed to. There is nothing about the package that HAS to exclude gay people, so putting together a package that does is arbitrary, bigoted, discriminatory and should be prohibited.

And who judges what is a 'personal foible'? The state, i.e. the political group that happens to be in control of state agencies at a particular time?

Yes, that is the relevant power. Which is why we must try hard to construct our states as well as possible to ensure they are maximally just, egalitarian and objective in their provisions, and not at the mercy of partisan ideology. And while "personal foible" is largely undefinable (and irrelevant), "equality" and "harm" can be objectively quantified.

Of course he shouldnt be 'compelled'; but neither can he, or the state, compel others to do what he wishes!

Of course the state can compel people to do things. States do that all the time. The state compels people to pay taxes, to obey laws, to live up to certain responsibilities. If a black person wishes to shop in a supermarket whose owners want to refuse him service then the state can and does compel them to do what he wishes, and punish them if they do not. That's all fine and good. That's what states should do to combat injustice, inequality and bigotry.

And why isn't there 'elsewhere' to go? If enough people share your view, or the view that you feel is so compelling that the state should impose it on its citizens, there should be loads of options for 'dissenters'.

For a start, it's not the role of a just state to impose what the majority want, it's the role of the just state to impose what is just and equal and fair and prevent what is not. If only one person wants it it should be just as available as if everyone wants it, otherwise it all descends into majoritarianism and mob rule. And there are plenty of reasons why there might be nowhere else to go. A gay couple might want to be married in the same church as their parents and their friends and the rest of their community, because it is important to them. They might even fervently believe in the god that church peddles and think that's important. Why should the bigotry of the church's current management trump their earnest desires? That's the only game in town as far as this scenario goes, nowhere else has such resonance for them, nowhere else is as special, nowhere else is close by. The only reason this venue might be unavailable is unacceptable discriminatory bigotry. In such a case it behoves the state to step in and remedy this.

No. AA sells a package...sobriety, 'higher power', solidarity, comradeship, support, space to talk, etc etc. The venue is irrelevant. Nobody has the right to say, 'ah here, that's a load of nonsense. You must listen to my views on alcohol, which are " go out and get locked whenever you want; there's no such thing as alcoholism. We should be sitting around here drinking" . Thats the equivalent.

An AA meeting is specifically for a certain purpose. If one attends an AA meeting in such a way as to frustrate that purpose they are in breach of the contractual obligations implied in the transaction. That's not discrimination, that's simple frustration of contract. A church service in general, and a marriage in particular, is not frustrated by the participation of gay people, because nothing about a person's sexuality frustrates the purpose of marriage or public ritual. There is no relevant operant factor that is being compromised, just the personal ideological foibles of the hierarchs and priests. Those are not relevant to the service being provided.

The reason we still have states is that they allow for peace, security, and arbitration of disputes.

which are prerequisites for justice, equality and fairness. Without this suite of higher-order ideals states can become very unpleasant places to be.

They can be strong, fair, and well-governed without interfering in the private lives of citizens.

Yes, but not without interfering in the PUBLIC lives of citizens, which is what we're talking about.

Actually, where does it get this right from?!

We endow our societies with the right to interfere with people's public lives. It's part of the social contract.

All these are motivated by self-interest, i.e. to impose one's view of what's best for society on society. That the measures might benefit others doesn't mean that they aren't prompted by self-interest in the first place.

Nonsense. We are capable of great selflessness as well as great selfishness. We do things that are not in our own interests but very much in the interests of other people all the time. Genuinely altruistic behaviour abounds - why do we pay all those taxes into social welfare programmes to make the lives of the unfortunate better and give people greater opportunities? Yes, we benefit personally from happier, more stable societies, but we aren't the only ones who benefit. When everyone benefits, why should we only concentrate on that narrow part of the benefit that accrues to us?

In any case, it's been my experience that few people really do things that conflict with their own self-interest; usually there is a happy coexistence of their interests and the interests of others they are trying to 'help'.

You do realise that you've just accused the vast majority of people of being sociopaths there? Of course people do things that don't benefit them but do benefit others. People give blood, donate to charity, avoid stealing even when they can get away with it. Our moral sense is far more sophisticated and far more profound than you make out.

But, eh, the state already does discriminate in many parts of life, particularly marriage. Not too much polygamy in the UK or US, is there?!

I said it SHOULDN'T, not that, as a matter of fact, it doesn't. We don't live in perfect societies, but the principle still stands. The state should not discriminate unfairly and arbitrarily, and where polygamy does not cause harm, it should be available.

Churches(there are some exceptions, of course) aren't commercial enterprises; they have to charge fees to cover the costs involved. Otherwise, who is going to pay? The state?!

An institution that charges fees to cover the costs of what it does is a commercial enterprise. Commercial means takes in money and provides services for that money. Shops do this too. They take in money to pay for the goods they give you! Where money or similar consideration changes hands, you have a commercial transaction. If a church gave away its services for free, it would not be a commercial enterprise.

Take one of those 'member-owned' golf courses. It charges fees so its members can enjoy their hobby in a quality of surroundings that is to their collective liking; it's not really a 'commercial enterprise', even though money is exchanged for the upkeep of the course etc. Let's say they decide on a dress code or a code of etiquette...should someone be allowed show up, spit on the ground, and say, "fuck y'all...I'll play my round in a pair of Speedos while swiging from a flagon of cider"?! No...if they want to do that, let them organise a club that's to their liking; if such a club doesn't exist, bad luck.

If the golf course is the private property of the people who own it then they can do what they like with it between themselves (within the law, obviously). But if they take fees, pay taxes, and admit members who are not the owners themselves then they are a commercial enterprise. Like a shop or church. The people who use the church are not the people who own the church. A church is not a private meeting of friends, it is a commercially available service available to the general public. Anyone can go to a church and ask to be married, and the church has to do it, because the marriage is a legal instrument of state. It has to abide by health and safety law and it should have to pay tax on this too (it is specifically exempted under charity law, so currently, it's a charity, which is not a private thing).

But neither of those were private organisations, were they?

And neither are churches. But private organisations of legal standing are also bound by non-discrimination laws, and rightly so. You cannot set up a legally recognised Racist Private Members' Club to exclude black people.

If they're harming others...

At the very least. A strong case can be made that the state is also responsible for stopping people harming themselves, for their own good.

No. Thats {discriminatory harm} up to people to sort out for themselves, without the threat of state coercion.

Why? Why should the state only involve itself with certain types of harm and not others? Discrimination can be just as harmful, often much more harmful, than any of the other harmful things the state concerns itself with. Excluding it from the state's beneficent remit is arbitrary and unjust. If the state is there to prevent you assaulting people, it's also there to prevent you making their lives a misery with bigoted discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

Anyway, what is this state you talk about as though it were an authority on what's wrong and right?

It's the collective repository and executor of our laws. It's a social technology that we invent specifically for that purpose. The rightness and wrongness of actions is objectively determined based on rational ethical and moral principles, chiefly related to harm.

The state is an abstract entity, remember; it has no values, ambitions, desires, foibles, traditions, skills, money or relationships....people have those things.

But what the state does have is laws and the means to enforce them. And through the rule of law society can be made more just and fairer. It is up to the lawmakers to ensure that the laws are fair and just - the state is nothing more than our collective attempt to regulate our society. It is us. It is people.

If you dont like what a church is offering, go somewhere else. If you think a church is bigoted, form your own church.

The church is offering what everyone else is offering - marriage services. It's just not offering them to everyone as it should do. As a non-religious service provider must. A registry office cannot refuse to conduct a gay wedding, why is a church allowed to? Why is bigotry a valid reason not to obey the same laws as everyone else?

You dont have the right to impose your views on others, nor they their views on you....

This is not about what you believe in the privacy of your own head, it's about how you behave in public, and how your public behaviour harms others.

that's what true liberty is about, not the travesty of some state approved version that dictates when and how you can make choices for yourself.

Liberty in a population of more than one is always conditional and compromised, to the extent that one person's actions can and will impose on and limit the choices of others. Absolute freedom is simply not possible in company. We have two conflicting "liberties" here - the liberty of gay people to get married where they choose, and the liberty of bigots to stop them. A decision must be made here. We must come down on one side or the other. There is no neutral compromise here. So it behoves us to choose equality over bigotry, because equality is a far more important value than bigotry.

A very good defence of statism, which I find utterly depressing[!] and the antithesis of personal liberty. It will only end up in one place, I fear: a state which controls absolutely the actions of citizens.

Oh grow up! The idea that there is some slippery slope from civilized reduction of harm in society to absolute state control of all actions is about as silly as the idea that fashions which reveal more skin will eventually lead to everyone being absolutely naked all the time. It's an absurd reduction to extremes entirely unevidenced in reality. With that kind of silly logic you might as well argue that we shouldn't have any laws at all - even murder laws - because the state has already started controlling people's murderous actions for the benefit of all, and hence we're already on the slope, and where will it all end? The principle here is harm, which can be quantified. If you admit that society should intervene to prevent harm to others, there is no valid argument against compelling religious institutions to obey the same goods and services non-discriminaiton regulations as we expect everyone else to obey.

Wed, 30 May 2012 02:12:11 UTC | #944355