Who We Do Business With, the Supreme Court, Equal Justice Under Law… and “Beer?”

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A recent story in the news caught my attention for three reasons: the subject had to do with website design; the timing of what transpired; and the horrible precedent that has been set.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado web designer (I will not identify this person by name as they do not deserve, and I refuse to contribute to, the SEO boost they might get from it), looking to get into wedding website design, could legally refuse to work for someone based on their sexual orientation and could post such discriminatory language on their own business’s website. Colorado is one of roughly half the states that has a public-accommodations law meant to prevent businesses that are open to the public from discriminating against LGBTQ+ and other protected groups or publically announcing their intent to discriminate. This designer, who opposes same-sex marriage citing religious beliefs, felt they should not be forced to convey a message that they oppose for a client using their “artistic expression”. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a reasonable argument. It’s the “I don’t believe in what you believe, so I won’t help spread your message” defense. And while I do think there is a place for this defense, this was very much not that place.

Let me be clear – if a child molester or rapist came to Electric Bricks and asked for a website to help convince the world that what they were doing was misunderstood and a perfectly legitimate expression of their sexual identity, I would vehemently refuse the project and report them to the authorities. Using common sense as a guide, it is correct to refuse someone like that – someone clearly evil – services that will cause others harm. But that is not what happened here. Contrary to what many believe, members of the LGBTQ+ community are not child molesters, they are not out to “indoctrinate” our children, and they are not some kind of deviants that must be silenced, marginalized, fixed, punished, scorned, or otherwise “dealt” with. In this case, someone who has a completely skewed moral compass, who obviously has no tolerance for anyone different than themselves, was given the right to refuse services based solely on prejudice. And that is not good. For anyone.

This decision by the Supreme Court is a classic slippery slope. This ruling opens the door to all kinds of discriminatory arguments that can, with enough mental acrobatics, be presented as a “this goes against what I believe” defense. Religious intolerance played a starring role in this case, as the designer’s viewpoint was supposedly based on scripture. This sort of flawed logic could arguably be used for almost anything. Depending on what you believe, it wouldn’t be too hard to find a justification (religious, political, or otherwise) for refusing to work with practically anyone who you have a differing or opposing view with. The Supreme Court allowing businesses to use freedom of religion or freedom of speech to refuse services to any group is a dog whistle to anyone looking to marginalize and harm any group they don’t like. This ruling says loud and clear, “You do not have to accept or acknowledge anyone with whom you do not agree.” This was presented as a First Amendment argument, but what if the so-called religious freedom being expressed or speech being employed is discriminating against someone? Should it still be allowed? What if the roles had been reversed? Let’s suppose that a gay woman opened a clothing store and put a sign in the window that read “HETEROS NOT WELCOME HERE,” or a Jewish bookstore owner put up a sign that said, “WE PROUDLY DO NOT SERVE CATHOLICS.” Their argument could be the same – “My group believes that what that other group believes is wrong, so I shouldn’t have to serve them.” Is that really what we want? A world where you need to identify yourself and your alliances and beliefs before a business needs to feel compelled to do business with you? Smarter people than me could probably come up with better examples, but I hope you get my point.

And for the record, free speech is not a license for intolerance. I am a huge advocate of free speech, but anytime that phrase gets distorted and twisted to support a bigoted or prejudiced idea, it needs to be called out. We should all be allowed to say what we like, EXCEPT when what we’re saying promotes hate or violence. And the hate this ruling endorses needs to be seen clearly for what it is.

The timing of the 6-to-3 Supreme Court decision could almost be considered ironic if it weren’t so insulting. The ruling was announced on June 30th, 2023, the last day of Pride Month in America. While it seems like we inch closer to a more inclusive world every day, Supreme Court decisions like this one remind us how the cowardly and intolerant can force us back a step or two very quickly. Civil rights, equality, and anti-discrimination are clearly never-ending fights.

The words inscribed over the steps of the Supreme Court read “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” and are supposed to remind us (and the people that work inside) that we are a nation of laws where we are all treated fairly and the same regardless of who we are. They are four simple words that carry a lot of meaning. “Equal justice” should mean exactly that – justice for all Americans equally. But “under law” seems to be where things can get tricky. Who’s writing and deciding the laws? And is the first half really being applied to and guiding the second half? In this case, I’d say no. Refusing any non-violent, law-abiding person anything is, and must be viewed as, just plain wrong. The right to shop, eat, go, and live anywhere any other citizen can is (part of) the definition of what liberty should mean to all Americans.

Equal Justice Under Law?
Equal Justice Under Law?

My sincere hope in all of this is that the marketplace will work as it was intended to, and this so-called web designer will be seen as the intolerant bigot they are, and consumers will look elsewhere. Over the long course of my career, I have worked with an enormous number of coworkers, clients, and vendors with whom I have differing opinions. I have never refused to work with any of them just because I don’t believe what they believe. While not a politically aligned or motivated company, for as long as I own Electric Bricks, we will never refuse any client our services for any reason other than hate, violence, or intolerance.

In closing, you may be asking yourself, “Why is Keith getting involved in this?” The answer is simple. While businesses are not people, they are run by people, and all people need to play a part in ensuring true justice and liberty are available to all. The horrible mishandling by Anheuser-Busch, when they failed to stand up for Dylan Mulvaney in the ridiculous Bud Light controversy, showed me that business owners do need to speak up, take responsibility, and use whatever platform they have to make this a better world. Anheuser-Busch seemed more than happy to take advantage of Mulvaney when it suited their marketing goals, but the moment it got heavy, they hung her out to dry. Wrong on every level and they should be ashamed. The world is full of wonderfully diverse and different people, and I sincerely want ALL of them (except the haters and bigots) to want to be Electric Bricks clients.

The opinions expressed here are my own. I do not presume to speak for anyone who works for Electric Bricks, nor any of our clients or vendors.

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