The fundamental right to say get outta my store

Conflicting ideas of rights, chapter 792. I have a right to equal treatment. No no, comes the reply, I have a right to treat you unequally, provided I don’t actually assault you or break into your house and eat your lunch.

Religious groups are outraged that, from next April, it will be illegal to discriminate against homosexuals or transsexuals when providing goods and services. The clash between religion and secular liberalism is stirring high passions and has even brought threats of civil disobedience…Religious groups have been emboldened by their successes in forcing British Airways to drop its ban on a worker wearing a cross, and in getting the Government to backtrack on its threat to faith schools. Andrea Williams, of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, which has led the campaign against the gay law, said: “This is truly a clash of fundamental human rights. It would seem that, when these rights clash, the homosexual person’s rights trump the religious person’s rights.”

The religious person’s rights…to what? To deny a commercial service to a homosexual person on the grounds that the homosexual person is a homosexual person? Is that a fundamental human right? Is there a fundamental human right to enter the public sphere in order to sell a product or service for public money but still reserve the ‘right’ to reject customers on irrelevant grounds? Is that a fundamental human right? Or is it just a bit of yukkism dressed up in fundamental human rights clothes?

The Guardian thinks it’s the latter. It makes a change, to agree with the Guardian.

The Anglican Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, warned that church-based charities would be forced to close their doors if the government insisted they let in gay people. ‘It is the poor and disadvantaged who will be the losers,’ he said…That is a tendentious argument. ‘The poor and disadvantaged’ would only lose out if the churches choose to hate homosexuality more than they like good works. Their objection to the new law is not, as they like to see it, self-defence against a meddling government. It is a threat by powerful institutions to withhold their charity out of prejudice. Churches are free to preach that homosexuality is a sin and their followers are free to believe it in private. But the elected government of Britain does not share that view and has rightly sought to give gay citizens the same public rights as everyone else. Or at least it has done thus far. On this latest measure the cabinet is divided. Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic, is the minister responsible for the new law and is sympathetic to the idea of exempting churches. The Prime Minister is also thought to be amenable to religious petitioning.

No comment. Comment superfluous.

Conflicting ideas of freedom come into play too, of course.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former lord chancellor during the Thatcher era, is the patron of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF), part of a coalition of religious groups opposed to the new rules which they say will ride roughshod over their beliefs. The new rules, which ban those offering goods and services from discriminating against gays and lesbians, will force them to act against their consciences, they say. The rules aim to stop, for example, gay couples being turned away from hotels. But faith groups believe there should be an opt-out clause in situations where it goes against their religious beliefs. Lord Mackay said: “People of faith are having their freedom to live according to their beliefs taken away from them.”

Their freedom to live according to their beliefs – ‘live’ in the sense of being able to reject customers on arbitrary yuk-based grounds. That’s a rather broad definition of ‘live,’ it seems to me. Granted, if you have a very small restaurant or b-and-b, you do in some sense live with your customers – but surely that is precisely the condition you accept when you undertake such an endeavour. Surely you realize it would be unworkable to include in your advertising and on the signs the stipulation, ‘for Discerning People That I Happen to Like.’ Bobbi Sue’s Flapjack House for Nice Straight People Who Are Pat Boone Fans would make the sign bigger than the flapjack house and would also risk narrowing the customer base to the point that Bobbi Sue has to declare bankruptcy four days after she opens the bidness. Or to put it another way, tough. That’s the free market for you. If you don’t like it, just stick with being a vicar.

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