Last year I offered progressives an opportunity to show their ideological consistency. Many of them had affirmed that Christians have a right to be free in their own churches as long as they stayed out of the public square. I do not accept such a “deal.” I believe that conservative Christians have just as much of a right to the public square as any other group. But if progressives were being honest, then they should have been upset at Eric Walsh’s dismissal from a government position. He was fired for sermons he delivered in his church. Progressives had a chance to show that they actually believe in freedom of worship even if they did not believe in freedom of religion. The silence of progressives defending Walsh indicated just how badly they failed that test.
Well we have now been given a second opportunity to see if progressives believe what they really say they believe. For the past few years progressive activists have touted the value of public accommodation. It appears that the value of public accommodations is particularly important to them as it concerns issues of sexuality. We all know the drill. A same-sex couple asked a Christian florist, baker or photographer to serve at their wedding. The Christian turns them down citing their religious beliefs. The weight of the government falls upon the Christian as accusations of failing to provide accommodations rain down on him or her. Every progressive politician or activist feels obligated, either internally or externally, to condemn the Christian as a bigot. Perhaps the most significant case right now is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It is going to go before the Supreme Court based on an appeal from Masterpiece Cakeshop which has lost in the lower court. And every progressive who writes about the case is on the side of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
So the question I have is whether they are on the side of the Civil Rights Commission because they truly believe in public accommodations or because they do not like conservative Christians. That is a little blunt but given my research on Christianophobia, my concern is quite reasonable. If you think that last comment is out of bounds, then there is an easy way to prove that I am wrong. Take a case where a Christian organization needs protection for public accommodations and see if progressives will protect that organization. If the principle of public accommodations is driving the concern of progressives, then certainly they would defend that Christian organization.
Well we now have a great opportunity to test that possibility. Last week the Ruth Institute was dropped by Vanco Payment Services. The Ruth Institute is a Catholic nonprofit based in Lake Charles, Louisiana. They definitely have a traditional perspective on issues of sexuality and family. As a result, they are not supportive of same-sex relationships. I am certain they have been critical of those relationships and that critique caught the eye of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) who put them on the hate list. It was because of the hate list that Vanco decided to stop serving them.
We also get to see if progressives truly believe in public accommodations. When people truly believe in rights, then they extend those rights to everyone, even their enemies. For example, I do not believe for a second that a progressive activist would be okay with someone at the Ruth Institute being killed. That is because they believe that not being killed is a right shared by everyone. But do that believe in public accommodations for everyone? If they do, then they would protect the right of those at the Ruth Institute to be protected from abuses of public accommodation.
This is not about the SPLC. I have been critical of SPLC in the past. I anticipate that I will be critical of them in the future. They were once an important organization in the fight for civil rights, but they have degenerated into a partisan hit squad. But this is not about them except for the fact that they are a private organization. They are not part of the government, and their opinion about who is a hate group carries no legal weight. Vanco does not have the protection of stating that they are reacting to an official government list. They are reacting to the opinions of those at SPLC about what they define as a hate group. In short Vanco dropped the Ruth Institute because they did not like some of the implications of their religious beliefs. Since religion is a protected group, this is every bit a public accommodations violation as it would be for Masterpiece Cakeshop.
In fact, I think it is a worse violation of public accommodation than the Masterpiece case. Consider it this way. A same-sex couple goes to a bake shop and asked for a wedding cake. The owner turns them down because of religious beliefs. What has the couple lost? Well to be fair, they may feel humiliated. They may feel unfairly judged and rejected. They may feel a good deal of things. But all that they have lost is emotional distress. Are they out any money? No. Will they be able to get a cake? I bet going down the street they will easily find a baker who will be happy to take their money. Will they be out of time? They may lose at most an hour locating another baker. Their feelings are hurt, and that should be recognized. But it is hard to see what other costs there would be for them. If we are going to enforce public accommodation laws in this situation, then we are arguing that placating the emotions of those in the same-sex couples is sufficient for punishing a given business.
Perhaps that should be enough to prosecute a case. The larger issues of fairness may dictate that those feelings of humiliation and loss are too costly for us to allow a business to go unpunished. Perhaps as a society we want to make a statement that no one should feel bad because they are not accommodated. That is a respectable position, although it is not mine. My personal position is that business should be forced to provide a product for a person in a store that they can take and do with it whatever they want to do. But when it comes to serving events or promoting a cause, then the business owner has freedom of conscience rights. That means that someone has to serve a same-sex couple that comes to eat in his or her restaurant but does not have to cater a same-sex wedding.
The penalty for those that use their conscience rights should be the marketplace and not official sanction. Thus the baker or florist may lose business from the same-sex couple and their friends. Organized boycotts are allowable in these circumstances. If the business owner truly has religious beliefs, then he or she should accept such loss of business. But when the government gets involved, then inevitably they fail to be content neutral and certain individuals are punished for not have the “right” beliefs for government officials. Often attempts to combat some forms of bigotry leads to other forms of bigotry. In fact the actions of Vanco illustrate one such time when this is the case.
Since we have looked at public accommodations from the point of view of the same-sex couple, to be fair we also need to look at accommodations from the point of view of the Ruth Institute. They hired Vanco to process their online donations. Now Vango has dropped them. First, we have to recognize that all of the emotional trauma visited on the same-sex couple certainly applies here. Vango dropped them due to the idea that they are a hate group. Why is this not as much of a humiliation, rejection and judgment as the same-sex couple felt when not provided a cake? The SPLC list of hate includes organizations such as KKK and Nazi groups. The Ruth Institute has been lumped in with truly hateful groups and in addition to that humiliation, they are now losing the services of their online processing company. It is reasonable to argue that the members of this group have at least as much right to feel rejected as the same-sex couple. Some would say they have even have more reason to feel rejected.
So now the Ruth Institute has to find someone else to do their online processing. And while they are trying to find someone, they are losing actual money from those who are unable to give them money online. And this is different from the effort of the same-sex couple to find a baker. It has now been advertised that the Ruth Institute is on the SPLC hate list, and for that reason they have been dropped from their previous company. Don’t you think that some of the other companies may turn them down so that they are not serving “haters.” I think they will find another company, but it will take them more time than it will take the same-sex company to find a baker. And while that same-sex couple will only lose a little time, the Ruth Institute will lose money for every day they have to go without online donations.
I contend that the Ruth Institute has suffered worse than the same-sex couple. However, even if that is not true, it is hard to argue that they have not suffered at least as much as that couple. So if the ideals of fairness and public accommodations are so important that we cannot hurt the feelings of the same-sex couple, then certainly it is so important that the Ruth Institute should be protected.
Now some may argue that the Ruth Institute is not being punished for their religious beliefs but for promoting hate. Once again I will not engage with the criteria used by SPLC to determine what a hate group is. But even if they used a proper methodology for making such a determination, this argument about not punishing the Ruth Institute because of their religion does not hold water. Likewise, many of the Christian businesses argue that they are willing to serve the same-sex couple but not their wedding. Progressive activists have not been willing to accept such an explanation as they argue that such weddings are natural consequences of same-sex love. If that is true, then is not the Ruth Institute promoting the natural consequences of their religious beliefs? If businesses cannot abstaining from serving same-sex weddings because is it homophobia then business should also not be able to abstain from serving Christian organizations that do not believe in same-sex unions because it would promote Christianophobia.
Will progressives truly show that they agree with public accommodations even for groups they do not like? Given my experience with the unwillingness to support Eric Walsh, I do not hold out much hope. But I would be very happy to be proven wrong. It would give me pleasure to know that progressives are truly committed to tolerance. It would give me pleasure because I am committed to such tolerance. That is why I explained my position above as to allowing freedom of conscience with informal, but not formal, sanctions.
Will progressives put pressure on Vanco to accept the business of the Ruth Institute? Or will they pressure other companies to follow suit and reject the Ruth Institute? Do progressives hope that unequal treatment of organizations like the Ruth Institute will lead to their demise and at least indirectly lead to a dramatic reduction of Christina influence? Perhaps a radical reduction in Christianity in the United States. Now is the time when we will see the intentions of those who call themselves progressive.
If there are not progressive activists and politicians who begin to speak out, then I will conclude that all of their talk of tolerance is a charade. They need not wonder why individuals like myself do not believe them when they insist that want equality. They have shown their true colors. They fight for the rights of those they like but not others. I have no problems calling out hypocrisy among conservative Christians who talk about moral leaders and then voted for Trump. But I also have no problems calling out hypocrisy among progressives who only show concern for equality for those they prefer.
I am never impressed when progressives talk about being tolerant and that tolerance is reduced to groups for which they already have affiliation. Their true test of tolerance is what happens when they deal with groups they do not like. In the past progressives showed such tolerance with actions such as the ACLU defense of the Nazi’s right to speech in Skokie. I am not sure if modern progressives passes this test.