Kentucky Laws and the Right to Service

Seems that certain segments of our society are up in arms about the recent laws in Kentucky that would basically allow business owners to deny service to gay people because… well, just because they feel threatened by what may or may not happen in a gay person’s bedroom that night.

(kind of creepy when you use a bit of truth in advertising, huh?)

I’m not really referring to the liberal segments that are (understandably) upset about these laws. I am referring to the conservative sides that are coming out of the woodwork with the “What right does the government have telling any business who they can and can’t serve? We’re giving up too many freedoms to the government! These new laws are right and just!”

Government has every right to tell any business who to serve. And here is why. Every single business in America uses roads built by government funds to get supplies to sell. Every single business in America takes advantage of safe roads watched over by government-connected Police forces that keeps the supplies on those roads moving smoothly. Every single business in America uses phone and optic lines that the government regulates to conduct all kinds of business. Every single business in America takes advantage of governmental commerce laws to seamlessly conduct business across city borders, state borders, and international borders. There are so many more examples that I can’t go into here.

But does the government providing these services give them a right to tell business how to run their business? Not really. But where does the money come from to fund these governmental benefits for all businesses big and small?

Taxes.

Every single person in the U.S. pays for these services that businesses take advantage of. Legal citizens, legal immigrants, and even illegal immigrants (oh, what was that about taxation without representation? Whoops.). Since every single person in the U.S. is paying for these businesses to operate, the only fair thing is to require them to serve everyone. Don’t want to play fair like that? Then leave your toys in the sandbox and go play in another one.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo, yes, the U.S. government does have the right to require the businesses built on the backs of every single tax paying person in America to actually serve every single person that funded the infrastructure that allows them to even operate as a business. Is it really just to tell a gay person that they can not eat at restaurant, when their tax dollars are tied up into almost every aspect of making that business successful? No, it is down right morally reprehensible.

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2 thoughts on “Kentucky Laws and the Right to Service

  1. Hi, Matt. I’m reading through some of your back-posts, and have been really enjoying some of them (especially the posts about egalitarian churches and ice skating). However, maybe you should steer clear of politics, because this is an incredibly weak argument.

    You imply that if they could use privately owned and operated roads (that is, if the government didn’t hold a monopoly on roadways), then the government would have no right to tell them what to do. Except that we all use the roads—except that some roads are actually free-market operated, and even some governments are experimenting with alternative ways of financing that place the burden of payment only on those who actually use the roads. Speaking of which, the gas taxes we pay ostensibly already are supposed to accomplish that, so in other words, for as much as a business uses the roads, it is already paying for it. Of course, the reality is more complicated than that (hence the push for alternative schemes to finance the roads); however, business owners and managers do pay taxes, just like anyone else. So if the fact that they use the roads and pay taxes means the state can tell them who they have to do business with, that equally would imply that the fact that I use the roads and pay taxes, as an independent citizen, means that the state can legitimately tell me who I have to do business with, and as a free citizen, I’m unwilling to make that concession. (Call me selfish.)

    This just touches on the political-philosophical complexity. I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff. (And I’m not going to, for now, because I’m running out of time.)

    In short, however, I believe the real issue over these laws is one of feelings. None of us likes to be excluded, and we often seek to mobilize the state’s power to try to force others to treat us with respect. At the same time, social conservatives are terrified being marginalized for their beliefs (another form of social exclusion)—because they are being marginalized, and rightly so—and so want the state to guarantee their fundamental right to act like idiots. Neither one of these is a strong argument, either.

    However, I do think that the government ought to protect our right to act like idiots, on principle. That is the theme of the First Amendment, because many geniuses—from Galileo to Frank Kameny—were first considered idiotic and rejected by the establishment, before their views were accepted as common sense. Frank Kameny, as far as I know, never lobbied to silence his opponents, because he knew that if the state had power to silence them, that power would first be used against marginal activists like himself. That’s why before the state, I think, can legitimately restrict the actions of free citizens, it needs to make a strong case that doing so is truly the best option available, that it is exercising its power judiciously, and it is using the least restrictive policies possible. I don’t think the government has always achieved that ideal in practice. And perhaps one reason is exemplified in the the debate over laws like this, that it rarely touches on these core issues.

    -TimK

    • Hi Tim – I think you missed my point. There was no implication about private roads, and neither does the business owners paying taxes figure into the point. The point is that if the business owners use those roads to open a public business, they can’t then turn away certain segments of the public just because they disagree with their personal beliefs. Its not akin to the government telling you as an individual who to patronize – that is backwards. The ways that the laws are written (in most states) specifically states that if you open a business to the public, that you have no say in who you can or can’t do business with until they become too disruptive to allow you to continue. And generally, this is because people of all beliefs contribute to the systems that allow your business to operate. Its not about telling you who you have to serve, its goes back to saying that if you want to be a public entity, you have to service all who contribute to the system that allows you to operate. Each state has laws written differently, but the according to the governmental law experts I have worked with in the past, they all basically have the same end means: you use the benefits from the taxes, you serve all the tax payers. Which also means the business owners, yes – but that only means that they can not be denied service at other public businesses just because they believe in, say, the Earth is flat or whatever. If businesses don’t want to live by those rules, they can close down their public store front and go to a referral or online model.

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